The House and Senate today overwhelmingly passed a bill that would send $15 million in additional aid to schools for 2016-2017 and set up a commission to recommend changes to public education funding and ways to improve student performance.
The vote in the House was 131 to 8 and unanimous in the Senate.
The additional funding would make the required local mill rate 8.3. Under the flat funding initially proposed for schools next year, the rate would have been an unprecedented 8.44.
The study commission the bill establishes will evaluate shortcomings of the current funding formula and review teacher pay and special education spending, among other topics. A Maine School Management Association designee will be part of the commission.
Senate president discusses $15 million more for schools
The news came during an hour-long Maine Calling program just a day after a public hearing was held on the so-called flat
funding of General Purpose Aid. Flat funding actually cuts aid to 131 school districts and creates an unsustainable shift onto
local property taxpayers, with an unprecedented required local mill rate for education of 8.44.
MSBA and MSSA testified Monday before the Appropriations Committee asking that $20 million in surplus state funds be
sent out to schools to keep the mill rate flat.
Those cost drivers include a $12 million increase in educational costs, largely driven by federal special education
maintenance of effort requirements; $6 million in additional funding going to charter schools next year; and, a $1.4 billion
drop in statewide property values.
“This additional burden is being driven by circumstances out of the control of individual school districts,” said MSSA President Supt. Susan Pratt.
The committee was given copies of the spreadsheets that show the loss of aid statewide, as part of MSSA’s testimony.
“The spreadsheets you have showing distribution of state aid to all districts in Maine show two things that are significant
to you as policy makers. Even with so-called flat funding of GPA, you have 131 school districts getting less this year than
last and all communities are seeing their required local mill rate go up,” said Supt. Rick Colpitts of the MSSA Executive Committee.
MSBA Board Director Jerry Nault explained that charter school costs were going up from $14 million this year to $20 million next because of enrollment increases in current schools and the addition of two new schools in September. As for the declining property tax base, he described it as a lingering effect of the recession and a result of the way we use a three-year rolling average to determine the value of the base.
The Maine School Boards Association and Maine School Superintendents Association are urging all their members to contact legislators and advocate for an additional $20 million in state aid to avoid increasing the burden on local property taxpayers.
The proposed increase in the local mill rate for schools from 8.2 mills to 8.44 mills, which represents a $20 million increase in local property taxes statewide, is being driven by circumstances out of the control of individual school districts.
There are at least two legislative options to appropriate additional funding that is needed to prevent cuts in current state aid in 131 school districts. Click here to see the spreadsheet.
One includes a Democratic amendment on the tax conformity bill currently sitting on the unfinished business calendar. Both Republicans and Democrats want some form of tax conformity to pass, but disagree on a business tax credit. The Democratic proposal on that bill is tied to $23 million in additional aid for schools.
Another is a stand-alone bill that Education Committee Chairman Sen. Brian Langley, R-Hancock, proposed to legislative leaders on Thursday. That bill was tabled but could be taken up again by the Legislative Council. It would give $20 million to schools, and Sen. Langley said the hearing on it would allow legislators and the public to better understand the cost drivers that are putting more burden on local property taxpayers.
Both would be funded all or in part by a state budget surplus.
“There’s a $72 million budget surplus and a portion of that money needs to go to public education,” said MSBA President Becky Fles. “It’s imperative all sides come together for the good of students in the state of Maine.”
The legislative committees of MSBA and MSSA have not taken a position on tax conformity.
“We are not taking a position on the tax conformity debate,” said MSSA President Susan Pratt. “Our knowledge and experience is in public education not tax policy. We are asking both sides of the aisle to find a way to increase funding for public education by $20 million to avoid increasing the burden on local property taxpayers for schools.”
I was at a legislative meeting today in Westbrook and was encouraged by what I heard about additional funding. All of our
local representatives and senators were present and all support education and the need for increased funds to public schools.
There is a discussion going on in Augusta about adding $23 million to the GPA to support education and a decision is hopefully
going to occur this week. All of the legislators present implored us to return to our districts and share this information with our
boards so they can help in this discussion. It was made clear that your calling and emailing is essential to influence this decision.
I hope you will take the time to send and email or make a call to our local representatives and senators and also members of the
Appropriations and the Education and Cultural Affairs Committees to support this additional revenue. Although it might not make
districts "whole," it will be added support to offset the local efforts. It was also encouraged that you share this with your neighbors
and friends and have them make contact with legislators too. As one member stated, the legislature response to its constituents.
Below are the email addresses of the legislators:
Bill Diamond <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
"Volk, Amy" <email@example.com>,
Amy Volk <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
Linda Valentino <email@example.com>,
Don Marean <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
"Kinney, Jonathan" <Jonathan.Kinney@legislature.maine.gov>,
"Ordway, Lester" <Lester.Ordway@legislature.maine.gov>,
"Austin, Susan" <Sue.Austin@legislature.maine.gov>,
MSAD #6 Superintendent of Schools
94 Main St.
Buxton, ME 04093
"Your actions follow your beliefs."