Gov. Paul LePage’s government efficiency agency is recommending a $9.5 million cut in education funding in order to balance the state’s current two-year budget.
The reduction must be approved by the Legislature, an uncertain outcome but one that could ramp up debate between the governor and legislative Democrats, who control the House and Senate.
Education advocates have already sounded the alarm over the recommendation, which was included in a 115-page list of funding cuts drafted by the governor’s Office of Policy Management.
The agency was created in 2012 and tasked with finding budget savings throughout state government. Lawmakers in June ordered the agency to find $33.7 million in administrative cuts in state government as part of balancing the state’s two-year budget. Other cuts include eliminating unfilled positions at various state agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services.
In its report to the Legislature’s budget-writing committee, the office said it could not find enough administrative savings within the Department of Education. Therefore, it was recommending the $9.5 million reduction in General Purpose Aid, which is distributed to public school districts.
The agency recommended that the cuts target school administrative costs, a proposal that aligns with the governor’s belief that Maine spends too much on school administration.
The Maine Education Association, the state teachers union, quickly pounced on the proposal, saying lawmakers had worked to increase education funding in the biennial budget.
“So many in the Legislature had the courage last session to stand up for our public schools and add money into the budget to help our students and override the governor’s veto,” said Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the union. “I don’t understand how there could be a recommendation to cut $9.5 million from our children’s schools. We saw the impact of the curtailment last year — class sizes increased due to layoffs, students continued to use textbooks from the ’80s because there wasn’t money to buy new ones, technology purchases were put on hold — we know what a multimillion-dollar cut does to our students and we can’t let it happen again.”
In the most recent legislative session, the Legislature added funding for education above what LePage originally proposed in his budget.
Richard Rosen, who heads the Office of Policy Management, wrote in his report to the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee that the additional education funding was allotted late in the budget process and was likely unspent by school districts.
The entire proposal will be reviewed Wednesday by the budget-writing panel. The education cut will need approval by lawmakers. If it’s not enacted, LePage could issue a curtailment order to cut funding across all state agencies.
The recommendation could fuel a political fight between LePage and the Legislature. Democrats, with the help of Republicans, enacted the state’s budget over LePage’s objections. The governor has since assigned ownership of the budget to the Legislature, which, he said, did not pass a truly balanced spending plan. LePage recently said that he would not draft a supplemental budget to balance the two-year budget if there’s a shortfall.