Month: October 2019

House Passes Student Opportunity Act

Oct. 23, 2019 – BOSTON – The Mass. House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation to invest $1.5 billion in the Commonwealth’s public education system. Known as The Student Opportunity Act, the legislation invests funding to support the needs of English learners and school districts that serve high concentrations of low-income students in order to help address persistent disparities in student achievement.

In addition, school districts across the Commonwealth will benefit from updates to the existing funding formula, along with increased state investment in other vital education aid programs such as transportation, guidance and psychological services, school buildings and special education.  

“This legislation makes a profound and lasting investment in Massachusetts schools, and I’m proud of the House’s leadership and collaborative efforts to move this bill forward,” said House Speaker Robert. A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “We’re building on our ongoing efforts to support our most vulnerable students, including our English learners and low-income students.”

The legislation couples new investments with policy updates designed to monitor and measure progress and support effective approaches to closing opportunity gaps. The bill modernizes the K-12 education funding and policy landscape in four areas.

  1. Fully implements the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC) to ensure that the school funding formula provides adequate and equitable funding to all districts across the state. Provides an estimated $1.4 billion in new Chapter 70 aid over and above inflation when fully implemented over the next seven years. The foundation budget is updated as follows:
  2. Estimates school districts’ employee health care costs using up to date health insurance trend data collected by the state’s Group Insurance Commission (GIC), and includes for the first time an amount for retiree health insurance costs.
  3. Increases special education enrollment and cost assumptions to more accurately reflect district enrollment and costs
  4. Increases funding for English learners (EL) that is differentiated by grade level to reflect the greater resources required to educate our older EL students.
  5. Addresses the needs of districts educating high concentrations of low-income students by:
    1. Providing additional funding based on the share of low-income students in each district; districts educating the largest percentage of low-income students will receive an additional increment equal to 100% of the base foundation.
  6. Improves data collection and reporting, specifically around use of funding, by:
    1. Establishing a Data Advisory Commission to help improve the use of data at the state, district, and school levels to inform strategies that strengthen teaching, learning and resource allocation to ensure greater financial transparency, including tracking funding for low-income students and English learners.
  • Provides additional state financial support to help public schools and communities deliver a high-quality education to students:
    • Increases foundation rates for guidance and psychological services that will support expanded social–emotional supports and mental health services.
    • Fully funds charter tuition reimbursements, which provide transitional aid to help districts when students leave to attend charter schools, within a three-year timetable.
    • Expands the special education circuit breaker, which reimburses districts for extraordinary special education costs, to include transportation costs in addition to instructional costs, phased in over four years.
    • Lifts the annual cap on Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) spending for school building construction/renovation by $150 million (from $600 million to $800 million), enabling the MSBA to accept more projects across the state into its funding pipeline. 
    • Requires Department Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to calculate the transitional hold harmless aid amount using the base and incremental rates and minimum aid increment in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget.
  • Implements policy updates designed to maximize the impact of new funding in improving student outcomes and closing opportunity gaps.
  • Establishes the 21st Century Education Trust Fund to provide flexible funding to districts and schools pursuing creative approaches to student learning and district improvement.
  • Requires school districts to develop and make publicly available plans for closing gaps in student performance. These plans will include specific goals and metrics to track success.
  • Requires the Secretary of Education to collect and publish data on student preparedness in each district and high school for post-graduate success in college and the workforce. 

The bill will now go to the Senate.

MASSPIRG Urges Lawmakers to Pass New Measure to Close Offshore Tax Loopholes At State House Hearing

BOSTON — Too many corporations dodge both state and federal taxes by shifting U.S. earnings to subsidiaries in offshore tax havens. However, a State House legislative committee held a public hearing today on a new bill that could help the state recoup $699 million dollars even without further reforms from Congress. The bill, HB 3787, An Act relative to tax havens and complete reporting, filed by Representative Josh Cutler (Duxbury), would move the state to a “Complete Reporting” system, eliminating loopholes that allow companies to book profits made in the state offshore.

This measure would recoup $669 million in tax revenue each year, according to a report called A Simple Fix for a $17 Billion Loophole, released in May by MASSPIRG. The report was authored by U.S. PIRG Education Fund, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), SalesFactor.org and the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC).

“When large companies use off-shore tax havens to avoid paying their taxes they leave both businesses and individual taxpayers to foot the bill for vital services including transportation, education, and public safety,” said Deirdre Cummings, MASSPIRG’s Legislative Director. “Everyone should play by the same rules.”

“Small businesses already face plenty of challenges, we should not ask them to compete in a rigged marketplace favoring a few corporate giants that can afford to exploit our tax code in this manner,” said State Representative Josh Cutler (Pembroke), Chief sponsor of the bill. “It’s time to close this loophole and let our Bay State businesses compete on a level playing field. This legislation will help ensure that the burden of paying for our state’s roads, bridges, schools and public services is shared equitably. Let’s promote innovation and creativity in the marketplace, not in our tax code.”

“Every year, corporations use complicated schemes to shift U.S. earnings to subsidiaries in offshore tax havens—countries with minimal or no taxes—in order to reduce their state and federal income tax liability by billions of dollars,” said Nathan Proctor, USPIRG, and one of the report’s authors.  In 2017, a U.S. PIRG study found that Fortune 500 companies had accumulated $2.6 trillion offshore.

A complete report requires a company to report their total, global profits, and the portion of that overall business done in a given jurisdiction. If, for example, a state makes up 2 percent of a company’s global business, then 2 percent of their taxable profit would be subject to the state’s tax rate.

Because this approach doesn’t let companies decide where to book their profits, but instead requires them to use a formula, they cannot declare that profits fairly earned in Massachusetts were earned abroad. An Act relative to tax havens and complete reporting, HB 3787 builds on the domestic combined reporting system Massachusetts already has in place to prevent profit shifting to low-tax states, but closes the water’s edge loophole that allows companies to continue to hide profits offshore.

“As lawmakers face tough questions on the budget, this part should be easy. We can start by making our tax code more fair by making all companies play by the same rules,” concluded Cummings.

House Passes Supplemental Budget with local road and public transportation funding.

Today the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed a supplemental budget allowing the Commonwealth to increase the balance of its “Rainy Day Fund” to $3.2 billion, invest in local infrastructure projects, fight the opioid crisis while providing emergency funding for towns affected by the tornados on Cape Cod this past summer.

“This budget reflects the House’s key priorities ranging from strengthening the Commonwealth’s long-term fiscal outlook, protecting public health and safety, and investing in our most vulnerable residents,” said House Speaker Robert. A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “These investments will make communities safer, improve municipal infrastructure and provide protections for those most in need.”

“This budget makes critical investments that the Commonwealth needs in order to continue to provide the services that our constituents so dearly rely upon,” said Representative Aaron Michlewitz (D – Boston), Chair House Ways & Means Committee. “The funds that we are putting into Education, Transportation, Housing, and into the stabilization fund will go a long way to improve the lives of all the residents of the Commonwealth.”

In order to further fortify Massachusetts’ financial resiliency, the Legislature dedicated $400 million to the Commonwealth’s stabilization fund, bringing the Rainy Day Fund’s total balance to $3.2 billion, the first time the fund has reached that amount in its history.

As part of the House’s priority to protect the environment, the supplemental budget makes a $24 million investment for the testing of potential per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination of water supplies and for grants to support treatment and remediation of affected public drinking water systems, and $35 million for the Clean Water Trust Fund.

In addition, the supplemental budget reaffirms the House’s strong partnership with cities and towns by providing $60 million to invest in local roads and bridges projects. Furthering the House’s commitment to clean energy, the budget also features a $32 million investment in the state’s electric vehicle rebate program.

In addition, the supplemental budget:

  • Recognizes the need for increased investment in the MBTA by providing $50 million for additional staffing and contract costs to support capital project delivery, inspection and maintenance activities, and service diversions necessary to accelerate capital projects;
  • Works to support the Commonwealth’s public higher education institutions by investing $20 million in a program that encourages private fundraising with matching state dollars;  
  • Keeps with the House’s priority to promote gun safety by including $10 million for gun violence prevention programs;
  • Supports low-income households at the risk of eviction or facing foreclosure by investing $7 million for a rental and mortgage arrearage assistance pilot program;
  • Continues the House’s leadership on the Commonwealth’s early education efforts by including $3 million for grants for early educator scholarships for school paraprofessionals;
  • Provides $3 million in disaster relief funding to Cape Cod communities affected by the tornados on July 23, 2019;    
  • Designates the presidential primary date for Sept. 1, 2020 and invests funding to establish early voting for the 2020 presidential election;
  • Support the House’s priority of supporting Massachusetts’ most vulnerable youth by investing $5 million in a program to expand access for students to community-based mental and behavioral health services in schools; and
  • Includes $10 million reserve for salary increases for home health aides and personnel providing homemaker and personal care homemaker services.

The supplemental budget will now go to the Senate.

Kids Holiday Card Contest

Rep. Cutler is inviting local elementary school students to help spread some holiday cheer by submitting entries for his annual Holiday Greeting Card Contest.

The contest is open to any students in grades (1) one thru (5) five residing in the Sixth Plymouth District (Pembroke, Duxbury or Hanson). The winning design will be used as the cover of Rep. Cutler’s holiday greeting card. The printed card will credit the name, grade and school of the winning student artist and a $100 donation will be made to the child’s school PTO fund plus a $50 gift certificate to the child. All entries will be on display in Rep. Cutler’s State House office as space permits and all students submitting completed entries will receive a certificate of appreciation as a keepsake.

The deadline for receiving entries is Friday, November 22 by 4 p.m. Entries can be mailed to Rep. Cutler at PO Box 2775, Duxbury, MA 02331 or dropped off at Rep. Cutler’s Hanson office at 620 County Road, Hanson during regular business hours. Entries must be received prior to the deadline to be considered. Entries can also be scanned (in color at 300 dpi) and emailed to rep@joshcutler.com. One entry per student please. Entries should be horizontal format and able to scale to approximately 5 x 7 inches.

All entries must include the student’s name, grade and school. Please include the name of parent, address and phone number for confirmation purposes.

For more information please contact Gigi Mirarchi in Rep. Cutler’s office at 617-722-2810 or via email at gretchen.mirarchi@mahouse.gov.

House approves bill to better monitor state’s colleges

Oct. 2, 2019 – (BOSTON) – Today the Mass. House of Representatives voted to pass legislation that will enable the state to more closely monitor the financial health of Massachusetts private colleges and universities and provide transparency and security to students and families in the Commonwealth.   

Known as an Act to Support Improved Financial Stability in Higher Education, the legislation requires higher education institutions to make public and accessible financial reports and requires any institution facing financial risk of closure to develop contingency plans to ensure a process is in place to assist and inform its students and other stakeholders. The legislation also establishes financial penalties on institutions for non-compliance with reporting and planning.The bill requires ethics and fiduciary training for higher education trustees and board members.

“This legislation will increase the transparency of the financial health of our public institutions of higher education requiring increased oversight, reporting and accountability to protect students, families, and staff,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, (D-Winthrop).  “I’m proud of the work Chair Jeffrey Roy has done to lead this effort with the support of Chair Aaron Michlewitz and Representative Kenneth Gordon.”  

The four major provision of the bill address the following topics listed below.

  • Financial reporting:  Requires that all public higher education and independent institutions post on their websites a copy of the institution’s financial report and a summary written in terms understandable by the general public. 
  • Financial screening: Enables the Board of Higher Education (BHE) to monitor the financial health of independent institutions of higher education in Massachusetts. 
    • Requires an independent institution to immediately notify BHE of any known financial liabilities or risks likely that may result in closure.
    • Requires BHE to annually conduct a financial screening of each institution and identify any institution it deems may be at risk of imminent closure.  The BHE will keep confidential those assessments for independent institutions unless it is determined an institution is at risk of closure. 
    • The BHE may accept the results of an annual financial screening conducted by an accrediting agency authorized by the U.S. Department of Education. 
    • An institution determined to be at risk of imminent closure must prepare a contingency plan for closure, which includes a process to provide notice to a variety of stakeholders including, students, faculty, staff, pending applicants, and host communities. The closure plan must also include:
      • arrangements for students to complete their program of study;
      • a plan for the maintenance of student records; and,
      • provide funding for refunding any student deposits and for the cost of protecting and maintaining student records.
  • Enforcement: Requires penalties for failure to comply with financial screening requirements, which include fines of up to $1,000 per day, suspension of any state funds, or the suspension or revocation of any degree granting authority.  
  • Board training: Requires comprehensive training programs for members of the boards of trustees of the state’s public higher education institutions on the proper governance,  financial metrics, open meeting law and their legal and fiduciary responsibilities, at least once every four years. 

The bill now goes to the Senate.

House recognizes national Energy Efficiency Day

Today is Energy Efficiency Day which is part of national effort to promote energy efficiency, reduce energy consumption and help consumers save money. The Mass. House has adopted a formal resolution to promote this effort, which I was proud to file. Thank you to Speaker DeLeo and all my House colleagues for recognizing the importance of energy efficiency. We should all be proud that our state ranks FIRST in the nation in energy efficiency policy. We like to say that energy efficiency is the best climate change policy you’ve never heard of! Of course there’s always more work to be done, and we continue to advocate for the Mass. Energy SAVE Act (H. 2832) and other legislation to update and improve our energy standards. #EEDay2019