On March 3, the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee held public hearings on the proposed funding for the governor’s biennial budget — and 440 Maine residents gave testimony in response. While the budget must still go through considerable checks and balances to pass into law, many school districts are facing concerns about shifting funding sources that contribute to local school budgets, particularly about school closings as a result of declining enrollment and rising costs.
Local school district budgets receive a combination of local, state and federal funding. State contributions to school budgets can be influenced by a variety of factors, and often shift from year to year. State contributions are typically influenced by student enrollment, state valuation of municipalities and funding for special education — in fact, the Maine Department of Education provides open access to how state funding for public education is calculated. The Maine Education Association recently compiled a list of the proposed budget changes district-by-district, which indicates considerable decreases and increases for school systems throughout the state. Because of changing population patterns and shifts in industry and commerce throughout Maine, many school districts and municipalities are experiencing a large flux in funding sources.
Maine’s declining population, in particular, has been well-documented over the last several decades. In 2015, Maine was one of only seven states to experience a population decline. Recently, researchers and reporters have turned to mapping to highlight the changes in Maine’s changing demographics. Geographic location in Maine is a major factor in access to educational opportunity, and mapping can provide a starting place for Mainers to examine educational policy and its influence at the local and state levels. Given the proposed changes in public school funding, we created the following map that shows the percent change in funding for each school district throughout the state.
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Our map is not intended to comment on the policy implications of the proposed changes, but rather to provide a tool for Maine residents to examine the proposed changes for individual districts. We hope this map can help increase awareness of the circumstances prompting changes in proposed funding.
With this map, our hope is that Mainers will dig deeper into the proposed changes that will impact their communities and others around them. Important factors to consider for residents of our state include how changes in student enrollment, local valuations and federally funded reimbursements impact Maine’s ability to provide equitable education regardless of economic disparities. To be clear, a reduction in state funds to a particular district does not necessarily mean that district will have less to work with, as the difference might be made up through increases in other funding sources. As researchers, we believe it is part of our civic duty to understand how education policy decisions translate into the education systems that support Maine — namely how changes to funding and demographics influence the quality of the life for all Mainers.
Declining enrollment and changing local valuations require all communities to take a hard look in the mirror, and even to accept that what was once expected in state funding support might have to change based on how our communities have evolved over time. That said, there is a real opportunity to take part in our democratic process by using data to inform policymakers about what is needed to support the foundation of our communities. The health of our schools and our children are at stake.
Ian Mette is an assistant professor in educational leadership at the University of Maine in Orono. He studies issues of rural school reform, school reform policy and instructional leadership. Patrick Womac is an assistant professor in curriculum, assessment and instruction at UMaine. He studies geographic literacy, social studies teacher education and the use of cartography to inform policy.