2017-06-15 / Editorial

Maine school funding, explained

Legislative Lowdown
by Rep. Martin Grohman

In the most recent statewide election, voters passed a referendum calling for 55 percent of school funding to come from the state. That’s confusing, though – for two reasons.

First, the state doesn’t commit toward paying 55 percent of all school expenditures. Actually, the state’s commitment is to pay 55 percent of the needs for Essential Programs and Services (EPS), which is kind of a base level of education and schooling. EPS doesn’t include many of the additional excellent programs that our schools provide, or even things such as school buses.

Second, there is some controversy about what is included in that 55 percent that the state is committed to cover. If it is only education expenses, the state is clearly not getting there. The state actually funded only about 47 percent of statewide school costs last year. However, if you include the amount currently being paid to correct the unfunded liability of teacher pensions, state funding dedicated to education is currently exceeding 55 percent. However, it is a somewhat dubious argument in my mind to say that funding teacher pensions, well deserved as they are, helps educate students now.

There is also federal funding known as Title 1 funds that comes to schools with a high percentage of students in poverty. However, our Maine funding formula deducts those Title 1 funds from the amount the state provides. The thinking goes, if they are getting money from the feds, they don’t need money from the state. However, the effect is that school districts, like Biddeford with high percentages of students living in poverty, get penalized.

Of course, for a municipality to receive outside school funding from the state, the municipality must commit to providing its own share. That’s where your property taxes come in. To make sure local education funding is secured, the state sets a minimum education mill rate, currently 8.30 mills. That drives significant property taxes, taxes which would be much lower if the state met its 55 percent funding obligation.

I believe that removing the Title 1 deduction from our state funding formula makes sense and will strongly advocate for this change in the upcoming budget session. I also believe the state should cover a higher percentage of education expenses, meeting the 55 percent commitment, excluding faculty pensions (which I still believe should be funded, just not included in the calculation).

Funding our schools is not getting easier as we see more and more students with various needs that require specialized staffing to handle. And there are more broken homes, many of them resulting from the drug crisis. This results in stressed students who are not as well positioned to learn, and higher educational expense.

Education funding has become the issue of the day in our state government. I will keep you up to date in these pages, and always appreciate hearing from you.

Rep. Martin Grohman of Biddeford is serving his second term in the Maine Legislature. Outside the legislature, he is chair of the Solid Waste Commission, and hosts a podcast for entrepreneurs called The Grow Maine Show, which is available on iTunes. Sign up for legislative updates at www.growmaine.com, call 283-1476, or facebook.com/ repgrohman

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