WE ARE HOMETOWN NEWS.

Following a vigorous May 23 debate session, the nearly $60 billion budget reached unanimous approval by the Massachusetts state Senate. Members adopted more than 400 of the 1,100 amendments filed, resulting in close to $90 million of additional spending with Western Massachusetts lawmakers maintaining the regions stake in funding.

State Sen. Jake Oliveira (D-Ludlow) pushed funding via amendments aiding local community programs. Among them, more than $2 million to support the region’s public libraries. The allocation is directed toward resources and development programs at individual branches, including internet access, social services and professional development.

Oliveira addressed the long-term necessities of the library funding.

“By investing in our public libraries, we are not merely allocating funds; we are investing in the fabric of our communities and the future of our commonwealth. Our libraries are more than places to borrow books; they are hubs of free thought, inclusivity and pillars of our communities, and they deserve our unwavering support,” he said.

In a statement from his office, Oliveira noted an additional half million dollars in supportive funding for communities in the district.

Allocations for veterans services include $125,000 for the construction of a memorial in East Longmeadow and $50,000 for monthly lunches, food pantry support and outreach programming.

Springfield and Palmer will each see $75,000 in animal welfare monies supporting conservation, economic development, workforce and transportation needs. The Senior Farm Share Program, which supports local farmers while supplying low-income seniors with local produce is poised to receive $100,000 while Palmer’s Baystate Health Wing Hospital is identified for $50,000 designed to ensure health equities for mental health patients.

Local education and public education are also designated for $50,000 allotments toward Girls on the Run of Western Mass Inc., for a social-emotional learning and physical activity curriculum and the Quaboag Regional High School Fire Program to support the program’s training of students. In addition, the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, Inc. could see $25,000 to support programming and operations.

“This funding is about ensuring every community in Western Massachusetts has the resources it needs to thrive,” Oliveira said. “From enhancing our public libraries and supporting our veterans to empowering women and young people and improving healthcare and safety, these investments reflect the commitment to the regional equity we’re striving for in the Legislature.”

Within the 43 roll call votes during the week-long debate session was state Sen. Adam Gomez’s (D-Springfield) amendment push for the restoration of funding to the statewide Advanced Placement STEM and English Program. The largest high school STEM program in the commonwealth serves nearly 10,000 students and more than 600 teachers in over 90 high schools.

The Advanced Placement STEM and English Program focuses on closing opportunity and achievement gaps for Black, brown and low-income students, providing more students with college credit earned in high school.

“Through this amendment, and other initiatives in this budget, we are giving our children and students an opening to higher education they may have thought unattainable in the past,” Gomez said. “I am proud of my colleagues for recognizing the value that these programs offer students while they are still in high school, creating a path towards an equitable education environment that will serve them well as they begin their careers and search for additional education opportunities.”

Program services include assistance for districts answering coronavirus pandemic related learning challenges and the development of AP study skills, cybersecurity learning opportunities and exam fee subsidies for low-income students.

Also prioritizing educational funding, state Sen. Jo. Comerford (D-Northampton), who addressed spending needs for K-12 and higher. Posting in her blog, Comerford identified Senate passage of amendments increasing the minimum aid per student to $110, and additional $2.5 million for rural school aid, for a Senate budget total of $17.5 million and the creation of a task force to examine the Chapter 70 school funding formula as it applies to required local contributions.

“Chapter 70 funding for K-12 education continues to be the biggest pain point for every municipality in our district,” Comerford said. “I spoke in support of this task force to reopen Chapter 70 as well as about the ravages of minimum aid funding, the perils faced by rural schools and the inequity baked into the required local contribution.”

Comerford said she and her team also secured allocation proposals for local organizations and programs including $350,000 for Seven Sisters Midwifery and Community Birth Center in Florence, $294,000 for the establishment of a police training program at Greenfield Community College and $250,000 for the Baystate Family Residency Program in Greenfield.

Budget versions passed by the House and Senate go to a legislative conference committee where potential conflicts will be negotiated before the final budget is forwarded to Gov. Maura Healey’s office.

bzito@thereminder.com | + posts