March 18, 2013

“It’s frustrating to all of us that the State of Maine keeps cutting funding for education,” said a fifth-grader from Oakland, Maggie Stokes. “After all, we are the future of Maine.”

Maggie said school supplies, tables, chairs, and textbooks were already in disrepair and that her safety was jeopardy due to a lack of aides and counselors to prevent bullying.

Parents, students, teachers, principals and superintendents testified against Gov. Paul LePage’s biennial budget today in the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee stating that it will force school districts to cut extra-curricular activities, lay off teachers, increase class sizes and make other education cuts that will hurt every child’s education.

“We heard powerful testimony from students, parents and teachers opposing the cuts,” said Rep. Bruce MacDonald, the committee’s House chair. “This budget does not put students first; it sends them to the end of the line and it squeezes. It squeezes our towns and will hike property taxes.”

The governor’s proposal would reduce $39 million from current education funding levels over the next two years. School funding in the current fiscal year was cut by $13 million as part of a curtailment. LePage’s budget also shifts the state’s share of teacher retirement costs to the local communities.

“If we want our kids to have the best possible future, we must invest in education,” said Sen. Rebecca Millett, who serves as the Senate chair of the committee. “We must make sure our schools have the resources they need.”

Most Maine town’s had to raise property taxes last year to cover less state revenues for education. Some who testified said that town’s can’t continually be expected carry cost shifts from Augusta.

“In Brunswick, we raised our property taxes eight percent last year. And doing that did not get us a fantastic or visionary school budget. It barely kept the status quo,” said Kate Kalajainen and educator who relocated to Maine after teaching in New York schools. “The solution is not forcing more tax burden onto middle class towns and people through property taxes. We need the state to provide the bare funding necessary to fund the school systems we want to see.”

If the governor’s budget is adopted, the state will pay less than 45 percent of the cost of public education, far short of the 55 percent Maine people voted for 10 years ago.