New estimates of how much school districts can expect to receive in state funding next year were released Monday by the Department of Education, which has posted the district-by-district figures on its website.
In some ways the numbers are significant because many Maine towns and cities are in the midst of developing their budgets for next year and how much the state will increase or decrease public school funding can have significant effects on local tax rates.
In other ways, the numbers released Monday mean little because of ongoing budget negotiations in the Legislature. The budget-writing Appropriations Committee is considering a number of proposals, including reducing state aid for education by $9.5 million in fiscal year 2015, which begins in July. The committee is also considering tax increases and other measures that could improve the state’s troubled revenue situation, though it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which lawmakers can find significantly more money for public schools next year.
The timing of the state budget cycle compared with municipal budgets has long created conflict for municipalities who are forced to set their budgets without knowing how much money is coming from the state. A notice sent to superintendents Monday stated that the numbers are expected to be updated following the Legislature’s adjournment in April. Even that timeline could be optimistic depending on whether the legislative and executive branches can agree on a supplemental budget and if they don’t, whether there are enough votes in the Legislature to override a gubernatorial veto.
Gov. Paul LePage, who has taken the unprecedented step of leaving it to the Legislature to write a supplemental budget, has told reporters that he will not support any tax increases at all and that keeping the Legislature in session past its adjournment date — or calling lawmakers back for a special budget session — is a very real possibility.
If education funding stays at the same rates currently laid out in the biennial budget, many districts stand to lose. The Bangor School Department, for example, would lose about $887,000 with its subsidy dropping to about $16 million. Eastport, which received about $134,000 in state funding this year, would lose almost $57,000. (These numbers are updated from a previous version of this post which listed operational allocations)
UPDATE: It should be noted that overall, state funding for education is scheduled to go up slightly next year, about $820,000 statewide, to more than $943 million. Meanwhile, student enrollments statewide have been declining for years.