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This week’s edition!

Governor’s Address: The Numbers Tell the Real Story on Education Funding

It’s the political season and a lot of misinformation is flying around. I want to make sure you have the facts. In Maine, teachers are underpaid and over-worked, while school administrators are under-worked and overpaid.

I’ve worked for eight years to put Maine’s fiscal house in order, and we’ve been successful, for the most part. The State’s finances are in the best shape they’ve been in decades.

Getting here, however, required discipline and living within our means. But despite good management, referendum questions, coupled with the Legislature’s love of spending and failure to address needed reforms, will leave the next governor with a big hole to fill, although I wish it were otherwise.

This week, the Budget Office reported that Maine’s incoming governor will inherit a $504 million General Fund structural gap, what we are required to spend by law versus our projected revenue. The three main factors driving the gap are Medicaid expansion, costing $180 million; the increase in revenue sharing from 2 percent to 5 percent, costing $213 million; and the 55 percent state funding requirement for general purpose aid to schools, costing $147 million.

The growth of the structural gap is entirely caused by referendums passed without an identifiable and sustainable method of paying for them.

The loose, incomplete and vague language of these referendums lead to misunderstandings at best and bad policy at worst.

Today, I want to discuss the 55 percent requirement to fund education passed by referendum in 2003.

There’s a major problem with this referendum: the bill never defined what should make up the 55 percent. The language was so loose that 55 percent can never be achieved in a sustainable, ongoing manner.

Why? Because the state does not generate the budget based on available resources. Local superintendents each set their own budgets annually.

In Fiscal Year 2013, this totaled 2-billion, 66-million dollars. The next year the new budget totaled 2-billion, 140-million dollars. The goal posts move each year. And, if you don’t give them all they ask for, they still call it a cut, even when you give them more than you did the year before.

In reality, with an ever-growing budget over which the state has no say, it’s virtually impossible to fund 55 percent because there’s only so much money. In fact, the Legislature has never been able to reach 55 percent. Despite 15 years of failure to meet the goal, the legislature has never set a clear, well-defined standard. There’s no way to measure 55 percent.

During my administration, we’ve put more funding into education every year. We’ve also tried to reduce administrative costs to direct more money into classrooms and less into overhead.

Here are the real facts:

Maine spends the least amount per pupil on instruction in New England.

As a share of per-pupil costs, we contribute less to instruction than the national average – despite spending 22 percent more per pupil than the national average.

Since I took office in 2011, per pupil spending has increased 21 percent, yet student enrollment has declined 7 percent.

In fact, education spending has increased $243 million under my watch.

Know this: Maine spends 59 cents on the dollar for instruction. The New England average is 63 cents.

I have worked to ensure that we continue to send resources to Maine students, but more must be done to ensure that money goes to the classroom, where it makes a difference.

The Legislature needs to stop letting superintendents move the goalposts and set a single, sustainable, statewide standard.

Our kids and teachers deserve it.

Thank you.

Paul LePage


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