The Appropriations Committee, in conjunction with the Committee on Education, held a public hearing on:
K- 12 Education, including Charter Schools,
- Higher Education,
- Student Financial Assistance,
- Maine State Library,
- Maine State Museum,
- Commissions/Councils on the Arts, Historic Preservation, Cultural Affairs, Humanities,
- The Maine Historical Society
No members of the public testified in support of the Governor’s proposals.
Curtailments on Higher Education. Maine’s Higher Educational Institutions struggle to flat fund tuition. Depending upon a student’s financial package, a student at one of the State’s higher educational institutions may be confronted with a higher cost of education than at student at one of the private colleges in Maine. The curtailments amount to $3.5 million, which the Joint Select Committee on Workforce Development and Maine’s Economic Future considers a disincentive to a skilled workforce and economic growth.
Child Development Services [CDS]. The cost of Child Development Services has ballooned over the past several years, especially in light of shrinking federal funding. Nevertheless, this program has been viewed as a black hole, and the Appropriations Committee has searched for cost controls. The number of regionals boards has been reduced, but criticism of CDS cites lack of efficiencies and coordination, as well as deficiencies in the selection process by which children are accepted into the program.
General Purpose Aid to Education. General Purpose Aid to Education has been curtailed to save $25 million over the 2014-2015 Biennium. In addition, the new requirement for local school boards to pay the normal cost of retirement for teachers creates an additional $29 million cost to K-12 school Districts. On top of these costs is the proposed $282 million cut in Revenue Sharing, of which 65% or $183 million funds K-12 education. This immense shift of program costs onto the property tax is creating significant local opposition to the cuts.
Charter Schools. Charter schools are funded by the majority of funding following students leaving to attend them.
Teacher Evaluation. The 125th Legislature enacted legislation to require teacher evaluation. The most significant issue is the extent to which student performance on standardized tests should play in teacher evaluation.
Education Committee (EDU)
Portions of the Governor’s budget in the purview of the EDU committee may be found here: Education and Cultural Affairs
The AFA and EDU committees were joined by the heads of Maine’s three higher education institutions to hear testimony on the Governor’s proposed budget.
Chancellor James Pages of the University of Maine System (UMS) presented testimony detailing the Governor’s proposed flat funding of UMS. The Chancellor also provided information outlining the effect of Sequestration on UMS. As information is becoming available weekly, a full picture of the effect is not available but it is apparent that research, economic development and veteran and active duty service member tuition reimbursement will be impacted.
From the Maine Community College System (MCCS), President John Fitzsimmons testified to the system’s request for an additional $1M in each year of the upcoming biennium to support basic operations. As part of his testimony Fitzsimmons included a list of 84 programs that were filled to capacity last fall. Regarding Sequestration, Fitzsimmons noted that they face the same challenges as UMS as well as challenges with student work study.
President William Brennan of the Maine Maritime Academy (MMA) presented his testimony on the Governor’s budget. MMA is not significantly impacted by Sequestration, receiving only $500,000 in federal funds each year.
David Bell testified for the Maine Wild Blueberry Commission.
Finance Authority of Maine (FAME)
CEO Beth Bordowitz of the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME) presented testimony regarding FAME. CEO Bordowitz acknowledged the flat funding of FAME’s student grant support by the Governor’s proposed budget. She also outlined that FAME could easily use a further $22M in funding to support the Maine State Grant Program allowing the increase of the grant award from $1,000 to $1,500 and to reach an additional 5,000 students. This year, FAME is only able to fund grants for students with Zero Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Families with incomes greater than $23,000 on average will not receive a grant.
Maine’s cultural agencies presented testimony next:
Returning at 1:00 PM both committees received testimony from other areas under the jurisdiction of the EDU committee.
Maine Charter School Commission
Executive Director of the Maine Charter School Commission, Bob Kautz presented testimony on the Governor’s budget.
State Board of Education
Chairman Steve Pound presented testimony outlining the parts of the Governor’s budget related to the State Board.
Department of Education (DOE)
Commissioner Bowen presented lengthy testimony in support of the items in the Governor’s budget impacting DOE.
Committee members asked several questions regarding the Governor’s plan to reduce the amount paid by the State for the normal costs of teacher retirement by 50%. The district becomes responsible for the other 50%. Further, the State’s 50%, $14.5M, would flow through the same school funding formula used to distribute GPA.
Commissioner Bowen distributed a spreadsheet detailing the GPA impact of shifting the costs of 50% of the cost of teacher retirement but not distribute the State’s share through the school funding formula.
Committee members asked Commissioner Bowen to pause his presentation in order to allow the many, many members of the public present to testify.
Parents, teachers and students from across the state testified in opposition to the Governor’s proposal to shift teacher retirement costs to municipalities.
Wednesday, March 20th at 1:00 PM AFA will reconvene and be joined by the Veterans and Legal Affairs committee for presentation of the portions of the Governor’s budget dealing with Ethics and Elections, the Department of Veterans and Emergency Management, and gambling and liquor enforcement and control..
Note: The hearings scheduled for Tuesday, March 19 will be rescheduled. The public hearing for parts of the budget under the jurisdiction of the Inland Fisheries & Wildlife and Marine Resources Committees will be rescheduled.
The full schedule may be found here.
Please feel free to join the committee as they do their work. You may also listen online using the following link: http://www.maine.gov/legis/ofpr/appropriations_committee/audio/index.htm
Thank you and please let me know if you have questions.