AUGUSTA — The Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee has voted to support a bill that would mandate all school districts meet their required share of local education funding by 2016.
The 10-4 vote to recommend passage of LD 667 followed about 90 minutes of discussion on that bill and on LD 367, which asked for a permanent sunset clause that would repeal the repeal of the law that now requires all school districts to meet the full cost of their local education share.
Unless it is reconsidered, LD 667 will go back to the House for action.
The committee unanimously rejected LD 367, sponsored by Sen. Jim Hamper, R-Oxford, on behalf of the Oxford Hills School District.
“Make plans to ramp up the budget,” Hamper said in an email to Oxford Hills School District Superintendent Rick Colpitts shortly after the Education Committee took its vote at around 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Under LD 667, which must be enacted by the Legislature, each of the 40-plus school districts that currently underfund the local share will be required to meet the required local share by 2016. Those districts include Oxford Hills, Lewiston and Auburn.
“I believe that they are sending a message to all schools — the minimum required local share is necessary to maintain education programming and standards and the Legislature (Education Committee) expects Maine communities to contribute at least this amount to the effort,” Colpitts said after hearing the decision.
“I believe they understand the impact of their decision may cause some pain to taxpayers, but felt that pain would be outweighed by the importance education plays in the long term survival of communities,” he said.
Colpitts and Lewiston School Department Superintendent Bill Webster appeared before the Education Committee in the Cross State Office Building two weeks ago to offer testimony on emergency bills, each intended to find taxpayer relief from the local share requirement of the state’s Essential Programs and Services program.
Webster, with the sponsorship of Rep. Michael Carey, D-Lewiston, had offered up a third bill, LD 1002, which would have adjusted the local contribution based on districts with a disproportionately high property tax burden. That bill has been withdrawn.
The Oxford Hills School District is 9 percent below the minimum local share, while Lewiston is 6 percent below. State law obligates the state to fund 55 percent of K-12 education, but it only fulfills about 84 percent of that commitment.
In 2010, a law went into effect that allowed districts to fund the local share to the same percentage the state does, excusing them from raising the full amount required by EPS. That measure has been extended one more year, until 2014.
Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cumberland, who made the motion to recommend favorable action on LD 667, said it would allow the committee time to work on the funding formula and Essential Programs and Services law. “I hope we will address both issues,” she said. “That’s where a lot of these issues rest.”
The Education Committee is expected to hear the first steps of a study conducted on the EPS formula next week. Committee members say it is possible that by next year the formula method may be revised.
While some Education Committee members said the bill would essentially allow some school districts to continue to under commit education funding, others said they were concerned about the ability of taxpayers to meet the obligation.
“How close are we getting to taxpayer capacity failure?” asked Rep. Brian Hubbell, D-Bar Harbor.