MSMA: Legislature to vote on education budget

Maine School Management Association

May 14, 2009

Legislature to vote on education budget

The Legislature is expected to vote on the proposed biennial budget next week,  including school aid that keeps districts at the levels promised in their 279s for 2009-2010 and language allowing expansion of the laptop program into the high school – a plan the Education Committee says should come with the warning “buyer beware.”

There also is language in the budget that sets the Insured Value Factor for private academies at 5 percent of tuition or $500 per student, whichever is less.

The proposed budget also establishes a penalty reserve fund, where penalties taken from school districts that did not vote to consolidate, as required by law, will be held in reserve until next year, when the commissioner will recommend how to disperse them. That amount is estimated at $5.3 million.

That figure does not include penalties for the 17 districts that voted for consolidation, but their partners did not. A bill working its way through the Legislature would exempt them from the penalty provision.

GPA levels

State General Purpose Aid for schools is actually being cut in the budget, but for this year and next, federal stimulus money is making up most of the difference.

That means the 279s sent out to school districts for the current fiscal year and next will be honored. The big drop off comes in 2010-2011, when aid drops by 55 million from the previous year, even with federal stimulus money. That drop-off could get worse if the state’s financial situation does.

The numbers show:

    For the current fiscal year, GPA was cut to $956 million, but the cut was made up with $27 million in federal funds for a total of $983 million in fiscal year 2009.
    For fiscal year 2010, GPA is set at $947 million. Another $43 million in federal stimulus money is being added in on top of $11.6 million in federal special education funds for a total of just over $1 billion.
    For fiscal year 2011, GPA is cut to $887 million, and it is hoped that federal stimulus money of $59 million can be added in to bring the total to $946 million. That number could change if the revenue forecast for the biennium changes.

Education Commissioner Susan Gendron had initially said the $11.6 million in special education money being used to help fill the hole in 2009-2010 was money districts had not drawn down in 2006, 2007 and 2008. The budget now says that money will come from federal IDEA accounts, but is not specific about the source.

It is also not clear what base will be used by the Legislature in fiscal year 2012 for General Purpose Aid. While the 2011 GPA appropriation will be $887 million, the state could revert back to the current fiscal year base of $956 million. That decision will be discussed by the Appropriations Committee.

Laptop concerns

The proposed expansion of the laptop program to the high school, which would be authorized but not mandated in the budget, generated much debate in the Education Committee.

Technology is essential in today’s schools, legislators said, but they were concerned about the price tag, particularly in the current economy.

The proposal, which would upgrade all middle school laptops and add new ones to the high school, has an estimated price of $100 million over four years, if all schools participate. It is contingent on school districts deciding to sign up for the plan.

In its report on the budget to the Appropriations Committee, the Education Committee wrote:

“Due to the significant state budget shortfalls in the current year and into the near-term future, the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee does not support using GPA funds for the expansion of the laptop program. However, we recognize that this proposal offers local school units the option of voluntarily participating.”

“Our recommendation to local school units is caveat emptor or ‘let the buyer beware’ as local school unit officials should be aware of the state and local funding requirements to expand this program at this time,” the report said.

IVF rate

On the Insured Value Factor paid by school districts sending students to private academies, the committee supported a plan from the Department of Education that keeps the payment at 5 percent of tuition – down from 10 percent in fiscal year 2008 – and caps it at $500.

The proposed language in the budget says schools sending students to a private school will not be required to pay an IVF greater than 5 percent of the schools tuition rate or $500 per student, whichever is less.

The proposal also says the state will recognize 100 percent of that IVF payment in its allocation under the Essential Programs and Service funding formula. The state had cut that allocation to 20 percent in fiscal year 2009.