The governor’s proposed biennial budget targets new funding for some key K-12 initiatives, including teacher evaluations and help for struggling schools, but also puts more burden on local property taxpayers because costs are going up higher than increases in state aid.
K-12 cost projections could come down over the next month when the Department of Education refines its estimates, but right now the total cost of education is estimated to go up by $68 million in 2015-2016. At the same time, state aid in the budget is increasing by just over $20 million. That means local property taxpayers will be asked to pick up the rest, with the required mill rate projected to go from 8.1 to 8.44.
Department officials say the mill rate could and likely will change since the budget numbers driving it had to be submitted in December based on available data. New projections are not expected until sometime in February.
Projected increases, largely based on inflation of current costs, include:
- At least $10 million more for special education.
- A $38 million increase in so-called operating costs covering teachers and other staff that are driven by student counts and the population served, including the economically disadvantaged.
- A $7.5 million increase in the amount districts have to put in for their working teachers’ retirement in 2015-2016; and $8.8 million in 2016-2017.
- $6 million to allow the state to pick up the local share of charter school tuitions – a proposal that will reduce the local tax burden for charter schools in some communities by spreading the cost out across the state.
In addition to those costs, there are increases in some ongoing programs paid for out of the “miscellaneous costs” portion of General Purpose Aid and some new targeted initiatives in what the governor’s office is calling the “Enhancing Student Performance and Opportunity” fund, which also comes out of General Purpose Aid.
In miscellaneous costs those include:
- More than $2 million for data and management support of Essential Programs and Services.
- More than $1 million in 2015-2016 and $1.8 million in 2016-2017 to allow regionalization of services provided by the Maine Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
- An $800,000 increase for the Maine School of Science and Math in 2015-2016 and $1 million in 2016-2017.
- Increasing a one-time allocation of $650,000 for Bridge Year in the current school year to $1 million in each year of the biennium to expand the program.
Additions to the Enhancing Student Performance and Opportunity fund include:
- $1.5 million in both years of the biennium to help struggling schools.
- $1.5 million in both years of the biennium to help CTE centers attain national certification by acquiring new equipment and having more training for staff.
- $2.5 million to help districts implement new teacher and principal evaluation systems.
The budget also creates outside of General Purpose Aid a special fund to encourage consolidation of administrative services. Specifically the budget provides $5 million each year of the biennium to pay up-front costs for efforts that reduce school administrative costs long term. Districts would have to apply for the funds.
The K-12 education budget is part of the governor’s overall $6.3 billion biennial budget, which is attracting attention largely for its proposed reduction of the state income tax by broadening and increasing the sales tax. The budget is being reviewed by the Appropriations Committee, which can and will make amendments to the proposal before it goes to the full Legislature for a vote.