Education in the Biennial Budget

 
Graphic representation of state plus local education spending and EPS level (DoE)

Outline overview and context for the current budget deliberations:

  • Annual state aid to local schools (the base stratum bounded by the lower red line in the graph above) has declined by $84 million since 2008 (from $978M to $894M).
  • Since 2008, by the state’s own calculation, the annual threshold cost of providing adequate opportunity for students to meet Maine’s Learning Results (the upper blue line with red markers in the graph above) has increased by $148 million (from $1,895M to $2,043M).
  • Over the same period, actual total yearly school spending in Maine (the top red line with white markers) has declined by about $50 million (from $2,010M to $1,960M).
  • So, despite Maine property tax-payers filling in an additional $34 million annually towards education during this recession, currently Maine’s overall funding capacity is failing by about $80 million to provide the threshold level of adequate resources necessary for Maine schools to meet the state’s own expectations for education.

This means that, for the first time since the state starting calculating this, the statewide level of school funding has dropped below basic educational need.

This should cause great alarm to anyone who believes that education is critical to Maine’s future.

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Significant figures within the Governor’s proposed budget:

For this budget cycle, for the first time, state subsidy of schools will be augmented by $13.6M in new revenue from casinos.  It’s important to bear in mind that, by 2010’s citizen referendum, this revenue is dedicated “to supplement and not to supplant funding for essential programs and services.”

But the budget is challenged by the extra burden of $18.5M of subsidy deferred from the current budget and “pushed” into this next biennium as proposed by the Governor and subsequently approved by the Legislature in the recent supplemental budget adjustment.  Moreover, the state is starting further behind because the supplemental budget removed $14.1M from this year’s casino revenue intended for schools in the upcoming biennium in order to fill the revenue hole in the current budget.

Given the state’s diminished resources, the Governor proposes to shift $29M of liability for teacher retirement costs from the state to local school districts.  This eases the state’s budget pain but equivalently increases it for school districts.

The Governor has set the base figure for support for schools is set to match the reduced level of subsidy made necessary by the recent budget curtailment.  Note that this is $12.5M less than the equivalent figure for state school support originally enacted in the current biennium.

It’s also (as the bullet points at the top of this page indicate) $80M short of meeting the state’s own calculation of adequate funding for Maine schools.

The Governor is quick to point out that, even at this reduced level and accounting for the shift in retirement costs, the state share of his budget is $22M higher than the recession-hammered level of state funding in FY2011 when he took office.

This is little comfort to school districts not just because the FY2011 subsidy was significantly augmented by additional federal stimulus funds but also because the Governor’s proposed subsidy is actually $84M less than Maine schools were receiving from the state in FY2008 when the recession hit.

But the Governor’s proposal actually hits local school operations just a little bit harder than that.

Besides the growing costs to local schools of subsidizing state-approved charter schools, the recent legal turmoil surrounding the proposed Baxter Academy charter in Portland has prompted the Governor to set aside $1M of school funding as a legal reserve fund in the event that the state has to defend itself against outside action against state-approved charters, effectively removing that resource from public schools which presumably have to fend for themselves in the event of civil action.

The Governor also proposes to dedicate $9M of school funding to support six initiatives including grants for adult education, school improvement, implementing national standards in technical education, increasing high school access to technical college programs, teacher performance evaluations, and the transition to proficiency-based education.  These are all worthwhile programs but they are competing against other very basic educational needs.

Budget materials