As Governor Paul R. LePage reviews the upcoming two-year budget, which was delivered to him late last week, he has discovered a disturbing trend of cuts to education. The budget reflects a slashing by the Legislature's Appropriations Committee of supports for existing programs proven to prepare Maine youth for success in college and their careers and some innovative new ones.
That committee cut a total of $18.4 million proposed by the Department of Education and Governor LePage, including reducing funding over the next two years for Jobs for Maine's Graduates by $600,000 and the Aspiration program-- which raises education aspirations by allowing students to take college courses at a reduced rate -- by $1.2 million.
Meanwhile, the committee, which is chaired by Democratic Senator Dawn Hill and Representative Peggy Rotundo, created a new line item in the budget backed by $200,000 for a college aspirations program that only serves one county -- Androscoggin, which Rep. Rotundo represents a portion of.
"Democrats, for two years, have falsely accused me of making deep cuts to education, when in fact, I have consistently added funding into the budget to support Maine students," Governor LePage stated.
Governor LePage has kept General Purpose Aid (GPA) above the amount it was when he took office every year of his Administration. If Governor LePage's biennial budget was enacted as proposed, by the end of his first term roughly $84 million would have been invested in our schools over and above the baseline GPA amount when he took office.
The committee also removed the entire $3 million proposed by DOE for targeted school improvement, all $3 million for the development of Career and Technical Education (known as CTE) industry standards and $5 million for the implementation of landmark educator effectiveness rules enacted with bipartisan support last legislative session.
In an especially curious move that speaks to the lack of consideration given in making these cuts, Appropriations also removed $4 million for the Fund for the Efficiency Delivery of Education Services, the same week the House and Senate approved its expansion via LD 1106, "An Act to Develop a Grant Program to Establish a Teacher-led School Model."
The fund fosters innovation in Maine schools by providing them monetary support to implement changes in government, structure or policies that result in sustainable collaborations that improve outcomes for students.
The funding freed by those cuts will instead be given directly to districts through Essential Programs and Services, even though local school budgets approved by voters don't authorize the spending of that additional State money.
"Our department's efforts are fully focused on improving our schools to ensure students graduate college and/or career ready," said Commissioner Bowen. "These targeted funds would have rewarded schools for doing innovative things and funded the very initiatives that the legislature and Maine people told us were so important. It's time to move beyond the status quo and to make our educational system better for Maine kids and this budget as it stands misses several opportunities to do that in really meaningful ways."
Governor LePage noted that Democrats have misplaced priorities in this biennial budget.
"Unlike the Democrats, I am not concerned about the next election, rather I am more concerned about our next generation. These cuts are irresponsible and demonstrate the misplaced priorities of Democrats," said Governor LePage.