AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill introduced Monday in the Legislature would ensure that federal funding intended for the poorest students in Maine actually would benefit those students directly.
Maine is the only state in the country where schools that receive Title 1 federal school poverty funding see their state subsidies reduced by the same amount, according to the Maine Education Association. Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the organization, argued Monday that this means that the flow of some $40 million of federal Title 1 funding doesn’t boost funding for schools where at least 41 percent of students come from low-income families, as it is intended.
“MEA believes that the intent of the federal government is to provide the neediest of our schools with additional funding through Title 1,” said Kilby-Chesley. “But in Maine that is not the case.”
Sen. Geoffrey Gratwick, D-Bangor, who sponsored the bill in question, LD 1638, agreed.
“We are supplanting [state funding for education], not supplementing it,” said Gratwick. “I think we can do much better.”
Gratwick’s bill, An Act to Improve Educational Outcomes for Students in Poverty in Maine’s Public Schools, would make the Title 1 money increase funding for poor schools, not decrease the amount the state pays them.
However, the Maine Department of Education said that though Maine does decrease state funding dollar-for-dollar compared with Title 1 funding, it does provide extra supports for economically disadvantaged schools. Suzan Beaudoin, the department’s director of finance and operations, said that because of the way the state’s funding formula was developed, it supports Title 1 teachers as well as non-Title 1 teachers. The result is that statewide, the state is paying for a lower student-to-teacher ratio, which costs the state more.
In addition, according to Beaudoin, the state provides 15 percent higher per-pupil funding for students who receive free and reduced-priced lunch, and up to 70 percent additional funding for students with limited proficiency in English. She said the changes proposed by Gratwick’s bill would have little effect on overall state funding for education but could have unintended consequences at the local level.
Almost 65 percent of Maine schools receive Title 1 funding, according to the Maine Education Association, including 80 percent or more of the schools in Franklin, Hancock, Piscataquis, Somerset and Washington counties.
The bill’s proponents see it as an opportunity to increase education funding in the state while better conforming with federal laws on Title 1 funding. Gratwick said even though increasing funding for education — by at least $40 million a year, according to his bill — would cause the need for sacrifices in other areas of state government, it would be worth it.
“My strong feeling is that education has to be an absolute priority for our society,” he said. “Having dumb, uneducated, unmotivated kids is not the secret to a great fortune for Maine. … If you think education is expensive, you should try ignorance. That’s what it comes down to from my particular point of view.”
The Education Committee will make a recommendation on LD 1638 in the coming days.