School funding: Analysis and two questions for Maine legislators

Maine-School-Funding-graph

Above is a graph that shows the underlying conditions that make the case for additional funding for state aid to local schools beyond what the Governor proposes.

The bottom line represents state subsidy to local schools. Note that since 2008 the state has cut school support by over $80 million.

The second lowest dashed line represents 55% of schools’ essential programs and services, a statutory level of support which the state has never reached.

The difference between the two bottom lines therefore can be understood as the structural gap in school funding that the state chronically has shifted to local school districts. For the current year that structural gap is approximately $200 million.

The second line from the top in blue represents 100% of the cost of schools’ essential programs and services. This is the state’s own calculation of the minimum threshold of school spending necessary to ensure that all Maine students have adequate opportunity to meet Maine’s educational standards.

The blue figures floating midway between the lower and upper lines represent the difference between state aid to local schools and the 100% cost of essential programs and services. This difference is the local lift that schools must raise locally in order to adequately fund education. In 2009, schools were obligated to raise $904 million from local property taxes to reach this threshold. In 2013, they needed to raise $1,098 million – nearly $200 million more.

The top line is actual total school spending. In 2009, Maine schools spent a total of $2,047 million on education. In 2013, total spending has declined to an estimated $2,026 million – a $20 million curtailment in educational programming.

But what is truly alarming is that, for the first time since the state has been making this calculation, total school spending currently is poised to decline below the minimum threshold level for essential programs and services.

Given that the Governor’s budget proposes to increase the structural gap between state funding and 100% of essential programs services by $22 million in 2014 and $51 million in 2015, this leaves legislators with two questions:

1) Are we as a state committed to providing adequate opportunity for all Maine students to reach the state’s learning standards? …Or do we instead give up and concede that Maine can no longer to afford to adequately educate all students?

2) If we are committed to ensuring adequate opportunity for learning, will we at least hold the line and maintain responsibility for the state’s share of support for schools? …Or will we instead shirk that responsibility and presume to shift an additional $22 million annual obligation to local schools’ property tax payers at the same time that the Governor proposes to slash municipal revenue sharing?