Baker Signs Budget Bill Reimbursing Schools
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON-School districts educating students who fled Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands after this summer's hurricanes are in store for $15 million in state aid, under a budget bill signed Friday afternoon by Gov. Charlie Baker.
The fiscal 2018 supplemental budget also includes $250,000 to hire two staffers and one investigator at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination to handle an increase in sexual harassment complaint filings.
Also in the bill: more than $1 million to reimburse municipalities for costs associated with implementing early voting for the Nov. 8, 2016, state election.
As of Jan. 5, Massachusetts public schools had enrolled 2,440 students displaced from Puerto Rico and school districts were continuing to welcome students, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
"I don't want to say it hasn't been challenging, but in most cases, I think they've all stepped up," Education Secretary James Peyser said last month. "They've welcomed these students, they've incorporated into their classrooms, they've provided the kinds of supports and services they need not just to kind of house them while they're here and during the school day, but to actually continue their learning. So I think they've done a great job, and obviously, they've been incurring expenses and the state needs to step up and fulfill its responsibilities."
The school aid will be provided under the formula used for Chapter 70 school aid, and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education must report to state lawmakers about distributions 15 days before the funds are allocated.
The budget bill also creates a process enabling the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) to increase compensation for attorneys in care and protection cases if they declare an emergency exists based on a limited availability of qualified private counsel available to take such cases. Under the measure, an effort to address problems in western Massachusetts, the temporary increase could not exceed $75 an hour.
"The delays impacting families and young people in Western Massachusetts have reached clear and inarguable crisis level ... ," CPCS general counsel Lisa Hewitt told the News Service earlier this month when the CPCS measure began advancing. "Families with a constitutional right to a 72-hour hearing are enduring weeks-long waits or worse, while children are shuttled from foster home to foster home or worse ..."
"This bill will give us the ability to ensure that hearings can happen in a more timely manner and that children and parents are provided the representation that our Constitution requires," Hewitt said.