Maine House District 47

Maine’s biennial budget

Mon, 03/20/2023 - 3:15pm

Maine's governor has proposed a $10.3 billion biennial budget, a two-year budget for fiscal years 23-24 and 24-25. Each of the Joint Standing Committees reviews a portion of the proposed budget and reports back to the Appropriations and Financial Affairs (AFA) Committee with recommendations.

The Education and Cultural Affairs (EDU) Committee has reviewed its assigned portion (~$2.5 billion for each Fiscal Year). Excluding the Cultural Affairs & the University Systems portion, the Department of Education (DOE) portion was $3.6 billion, an increase over the previous biennial budget of ~$300 million or 8.9%. The DOE budget can be divided into two major parts: The Department itself and General Purpose Aid For Local Schools.

The Department-proposed budget includes funding all the current staff positions (7% of those positions are unfilled) and increases staff by an additional ~10%.  The Department-proposed budget of $839 million represents an increase of ~$160 million or 23.5%.  The General Purpose Aid For Local Schools proposed budget is $2.7 billion an increase of ~$136 million or 5.1%.

Increasing funds at the local level will help, but how will increasing spending at the state level? Does this budget grow student achievement or does it grow state government?  

The methodology used in preparing the budget could be characterized as a "baseline budget with increases.” I am accustomed to working with a "zero-based budget,” which requires a detailed review of an agency, its functions, its performance and its effectiveness with the objective of improving an organization's operations.

Having been blessed with an incredible career that was the result of an excellent elementary and secondary education, I believe every child in Maine deserves that same excellent education.

One of the documents presented during the EDU Committee orientation was "Maine Kids Count-2021.” It indicates that only 56.2% of fourth grade students scored at or above reading proficiency levels and only 36.5 % of eighth grade students scored at or above math proficiency levels. This is unacceptable. Parents are upset with these scores. Many parents are choosing to home school their children or have enrolled them in private schools, many with great sacrifice.

Performance indicates that the education system fails to provide many of our children with the essential reading and math skills. Increasing staff at the state level does not improve the situation, especially when teachers at the local level are leaving the  profession. How does this budget help our children? If we are to increase the DOE budget, let it go to the local level.

The EDU Committee has provided a divided report to the AFA Committee – the Republicans recommending increased funding for GPA rather than the Department, while the Democrats supported the proposed budget and recommended significant increases in addition to what was proposed.

It is difficult for me to justify increased state spending when so many of the people of Maine are struggling with the increased costs of food, energy and fuel.