School Aid Increases as Tax Battle Unfolds
The following offers highlights of the recent legislative sessions. Precollegiate enrollment figures are based on fall 2004 data reported by state officials for public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending do not include federal flow-through funds, unless noted.
School districts in Maine will see significant increases in per-pupil funding from the state this year, as new property-tax- relief laws also take effect.
Residents have been embroiled in debate over how to curb rising property taxes—the primary source of funding for the state’s schools—and last winter the legislature passed a tax-relief measure that will give grants to low-income homeowners to help them pay their local property taxes.
The lawmakers did not take action on tax reform, however, and they may meet in a special session later this year to consider several plans. Earlier this year, desperate legislators even considered, but rejected, a proposal to raise revenue by licensing kayaks and canoes.
The state’s K-12 aid will increase by 13 percent, to $837 million, in fiscal 2006, and then to $873 million in fiscal 2007, as part of last November’s voter-approved referendum to boost such aid. The total biennial budget is $5.5 billion.
To make up for the education funding increase, the two-year state budget includes $600 million in cuts, and it caps spending increases in other areas of the budget at 3 percent, the lowest amount in 30 years.
Gov. John Baldacci announced in July, after the budget was signed, that the state had achieved a $75 million surplus for the past two years. Democrats said that most of those funds should be put into reserves for future economic downturns.
The state’s projected K-12 enrollment of 199,000, down from 203,000 last year, is expected to continue to decline in coming years.
Vol. 24, Issue 44, Page 24