Massachusetts Budget

Massachusetts Secretary of Education James Peyser faces reporters during a news conference, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019 at the Statehouse, in Boston.

(The Center Square) – Massachusetts lawmakers and education officials are looking into whether American Rescue Plan Act funds can be used to construct new schools throughout the state.

Securing funding for new schools through the Massachusetts School Building Authority, or MSBA, is a long process with no guarantee your project will be approved, officials told the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, and 12 schools in Lynn are more than a century old.

“Our school construction formula, which has not been updated since 2004, is outdated and creates barriers to financing new construction, particularly for low-income communities and communities of color,” said Sen. Brenden Crighton, a Democratic lawmaker from Lynn. “We believe it (ARPA) is an opportunity to bring our schools into a good state of repair and to make them healthy for our teachers and students.”

Crighton and others believe the solution could come from the American Rescue Plan Act, which has funneled $5.3 billion into the state that is “more flexible,” Education Secretary James Peyser told the committee. Gov. Charlie Baker has already tapped $240 million of that for a workforce development program, according to Peyser. The state should use some of that money for new construction, Crighton told the committee.

But that money still comes with restrictions. 

The guidelines did not specifically say the funding could be used for capital projects or higher education, Peyser told the committee.

“It certainly would appear that the expenditures specifically related to COVID, which may induce things that have to do with ventilation or HVAC or they may have to do with other kinds of maintenance that has an effect on the ability of programs and schools to be open for students in person in a safe way might be eligible for some of those dollars,” Peyser said.

Treasurer Deborah Goldberg said there could be a way to help cities like Lynn using ARPA funds. Many of the cities don’t have the local contribution required by the MSBA, she said. The administration could allocate ARPA funds to needy cities as a way of helping them meet the MSBA requirement, Goldberg told the committee.

The meeting focused on how ARPA funds could be used for education, social equity, safety net and families and was the sixth held by the Joint Ways and Means Committee.

The final meeting is scheduled for Oct. 5. Lawmakers previously said they hope to have a bill ready by Thanksgiving that clarifies how the money will be distributed.

Associate Editor

Brent Addleman is an Associate Editor and a veteran journalist with more than 25 years of experience. He has served as editor of newspapers in Pennsylvania and Texas, and has also worked at newspapers in Delaware, Maryland, New York, and Kentucky.