State lawmakers voted by wide margins Wednesday to restore millions of dollars in education funding vetoed by Governor Charlie Baker.
The Legislature added $5.25 million back to the University of Massachusetts budget, reinstated $217,000 in funding for Quinsigamond Community College, and restored $17.6 million in kindergarten grants.
“Hallelujah!,” said Andre Ravenelle, superintendent of the Fitchburg Public Schools, who had worried about the fate of the kindergarten funds. “I’ve been on a Universal Studios roller coaster ride.”
The education overrides were among dozens approved by lawmakers Wednesday. The Legislature also reinstated funding for the Franklin Park and Stone zoos and for homelessness prevention, among other programs.
By Thursday evening, legislators are expected to restore about 60 percent of the $162 million Baker vetoed from the state’s $38.1 billion budget — including many of the $38 million in earmarks, or local projects championed by individual lawmakers, that he slashed.
But it is the conflict over education spending that has generated the most heat.
Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat, released a statement hours after Baker issued his budget vetoes two weeks ago saying the education reductions were “short-sighted at best.” And after the overrides Wednesday, he issued another strongly worded comment.
“If we’re serious about closing the income inequality gap, expanding educational opportunities for working families must be an important priority,” he said. “By overriding the governor’s ill-advised education vetoes, we’re helping middle-class kids get the tools they will need to prosper in a demanding and competitive economy.”
Baker administration officials declined to respond to Rosenberg’s statement Wednesday evening or to comment, in detail, about the Legislature’s overrides.
But earlier in the day, as lawmakers began debate on the overrides, Baker struck a conciliatory tone. “The budget is a combo platter,” he told State House News Service. “It’s a combination of decisions that get made by us and by the Senate and by the House.”
When the Legislature is done with overrides, Baker added, the administration will “add it up and figure out what we need to do to make sure that the budget’s balanced and that we live within our means.”
Over the last couple of weeks, Baker administration officials have emphasized that education spending in several categories would be higher than it was last year, with or without the governor’s vetoes.
They have also pointed out that the kindergarten money the governor vetoed was part of a fund originally intended to provide seed money for expansions to full-day kindergarten. With 90 percent of Massachusetts cities and towns now offering it, they argued, the fund is no longer serving its stated purpose. Instead, they said, it is subsidizing existing full-day programs that should stand on their own.
Tom Scott, the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, acknowledged that history in an interview Wednesday. But he said there was never “a warning signal as to when the funding would stop.” The governor’s veto, if it had survived, would have put many districts in a fiscal bind, he said.
“The argument was, we understand that it’s not going to stay around permanently,” Scott said. “But let’s find a way to either [taper] it off or give some sort of future date that we can plan for.”
UMass president Marty Meehan, in a statement Wednesday, said the restoration of $5.25 million in funding for the five-campus system “is a victory for the students, faculty, and staff.”
The money the governor vetoed, and lawmakers overrode, was just a sliver of the roughly $530 million the Legislature provided for the UMass system.