AUGUSTA, Maine — The Legislature’s Education Committee voted Monday to increase funding for public schools over the next two years above the level recommended by Gov. Paul LePage, though Republicans and Democrats on the committee disagreed about the amount.
The votes constituted part of the committee’s recommendations on LePage’s $6.57 billion two-year budget proposal, which faces further debate and votes in the coming weeks and months.
In an 8-5 vote, Democrats and Sen. Peter Edgecomb, R-Caribou, voted to increase the allocation to the state’s public school funding formula by $51 million in each year of the upcoming biennium. The remaining Republicans on the committee voted to increase funding by about half that, $25 million in each year of the biennium.
“The whole committee really showed our commitment to our communities, our students and our teachers today,” said Rep. Victoria Kornfield, D-Bangor. “We all wanted more money to go to education.”
LePage has proposed a less than 1 percent increase in education funding that is sent directly to public schools, approximately $887.5 million per year. LePage proposes increasing overall state funding for education by about $20 million over the current level, to about $965 million per year, though he has proposed using some of that funding for earmarked projects. He also has taken steps to push some educational expenses to municipalities.
“This shows that everyone on this committee agrees that we need an increase in funding for our public schools,” said Rep. Ryan Tipping-Spitz, D-Orono, who is a member of the committee.
The rationale behind the committee’s majority report was that adding $51 million per year would move state government closer to 55 percent funding for K-12 public education, which Maine voters approved in a 2004 referendum but has never been achieved. The state is currently paying about 50.1 percent of the total cost of public education, including teacher retirement costs.
In earlier recommendations, the Education Committee voted to increase funding for the Maine Community College System by $6 million over the biennium. LePage has recommended flat-funding the system. The committee also voted to restore $4 million in transition funding for schools seeking to start pre-kindergarten programs, which was removed in LePage’s first biennial budget in 2011.
The committee did not identify how to pay for the funding increase. If the recommendation is to stand, the money would have to be found by the Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee through either cuts to other programs or revenue increases. If enacted by the House and Senate, the budget would then go to LePage.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated incorrectly that the $887.5 million that LePage proposes to flow directly to schools includes money for a range of special projects. Funding for those projects is separate.