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How did education fare in this year’s state budget? Here’s what you need to know.

The ‘historic’ investment in education includes state funding for universal free school meals, and nearly $6.6 billion for public schools.

The state's budget proposal doles out nearly $6.6 billion for K-12 public schools plus hundreds of millions more for new and existing education-related programs. It awaits Governor Maura Healey's approval.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Lawmakers and public education advocates alike are celebrating after the Legislature voted to pass a $56.2 billion budget proposal for the 2024 fiscal year that includes nearly $6.6 billion for K-12 schools plus hundreds of millions more for new and existing education-related programs, touting it as a “historic” investment in public education.

After coming to a compromise deal over the weekend, House and Senate lawmakers voted this week to send the spending package to the governor’s desk, where it awaits Governor Maura Healey’s approval.

The proposed budget increases public school funding by more than $600 million compared to the previous fiscal year, and doubles the minimum state aid per student from $30 to $60.


“Education funding has been a priority of mine for 13 years, and I can say that, without a doubt, this budget has been the best budget for education since I’ve been in the state Senate,” said state Senator Sal DiDomenico, Senate vice chair of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education. “These funds are going to be a game changer for so many districts across our state.”

Lawmakers and education interest groups say the budget proposal demonstrates the state’s ongoing commitment to the 2019 Student Opportunity Act, which aimed to significantly increase public school funding and distribute it equitably, with significant focus on schools that serve high needs students.

The 2024 budget also takes into account approximately $1 billion in projected revenue generated by the Fair Share Amendment voters approved in 2022, also known as the so-called millionaires tax, 52 percent of which is allocated to fund education programs.

Here’s a look at some of the major education-related provisions included in the budget:

Universal free school meals

Though federal dollars funded a universal K-12 free meals program during the pandemic, the Legislature’s new budget proposal allocates $171.5 million in state funds to continue the program, and includes language that makes it permanent.


“We know all of the impacts of a kid sitting hungry in a classroom — they’re unable to learn, they’re unable to pay attention, it impacts their ability to make social connections, impacts their ability to meet behavioral expectations,” said Jennifer Lemmerman, vice president of public policy at Project Bread. “This is a critical part of ending hunger in Massachusetts … and is going to bring generational change.”

In-state tuition for migrant students

Several provisions aim to make higher education more affordable for Massachusetts students, and dedicated $50 million to provide state residents free community college across the state by the fall of 2024.

“I think it’s really very exciting and historic,” said Jason Lewis, Senate chair of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education. “The Legislature is signaling that we are very serious about tackling affordability and accessibility of public higher education in Massachusetts, and we recognize that for many not just low-income, but middle-income families, you know, the cost of higher education has gotten prohibitive, and it’s requiring families and students to take on very significant debt burden. So we’re very serious about tackling that.”

The funding also expands access to in-state tuition to migrant students, regardless of their immigration status, provided that they have attended a Massachusetts high school for at least three years or earned their GED in the state. Massachusetts joins at least 23 other states in enacting similar laws, according to the National Immigration Law Center.

“Having students not be able to go to college, because of no fault of their own other than the fact that they’re not documented, was detrimental not just to them and their families, but also our communities,” said DiDomenico. “It really is a game changer and changes lives for young people that are gonna have an opportunity to go to college.”


What was missing?

Some education advocates say they had hoped the state would allocate more money for rural schools and special education.

The proposed budget includes $504.5 million for reimbursements to districts for the special education circuit breaker program, in which public school districts pay for some high-need special education students to go to specialized private schools if the school cannot meet the students’ needs. However, the budget amount would only reimburse districts up to 75 percent of those tuition costs, and some education advocates say they want to see schools reimbursed up to 90 percent.

“Over the past 10 years, what we’re hearing from local school districts is that special education is costing our school budgets considerably more now than they were even 10 years ago,” said Tom Scott, co-executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents. ”We need some remedy to that increase.”

Advocates also said too little money went toward rural school aid assistance, which will receive $15 million, with Healey’s approval. Rural schools are facing declining enrollment, while also balancing budgets with high transportation costs and less money in property taxes, said Max Page, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. The Legislature in recent years set up a special commission on rural school districts that recommended higher amounts of aid.


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Niki Griswold can be reached at Follow her @nikigriswold.