|The biennial budget passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor not only gave public schools an additional $162 million over this year and next, but included substantial changes that affect how that money will be spent.
Some of those changes don’t go into effect until the 2018-2019 school year, which is when the lion’s share of the additional funding will be distributed. The budget includes $48.4 million in 2017-2018, as reflected in the Ed 279s released in July, and $113.6 million for 2018-2019, above what the governor proposed in January.
Several of those changes focused on specific school populations – the most significant being funding for economically disadvantaged students. Those changes include:
- No longer subtracting Title I funds from district allocations and raising student-teacher and ed-tech ratios to make up the funding difference. This initiative was a continuation of one proposed in the governor’s original budget.
- A new initiative increases the current weight of 15 percent for economically disadvantaged by 5 percent. It requires that additional funding of $27.5 million a year be targeted and used for evidenced based extended learning programs for disadvantaged students. To be eligible for this funding districts must certify the money is used for the intended purpose, which includes summer school, extended learning programs, tutoring and other approved programs. That additional weight is included in the ED 279s issued in July.
There also are several initiatives around special education. They include:
- Increasing the weight this school year for special education students to 150 percent for identified students representing up to 15 percent of the unit’s resident pupils.
- In school year 2018-2019, the budget calls for an allocation for high-cost out-of-district special education placements. For private school placements, additional funds must be allocated for each student costing four times the statewide average; for public school placements the threshold is three times the state average; and, for regional special education programs it is two times.
- Also in 2018-2019, a special education budgetary hardship clause allows the commissioner to provide additional funding to districts who receive a student as a result of an appeal of a student transfer request approved by the Commissioner of Education.
Other significant funding changes include:
- Requirement that the state recognize 100 percent of Essential Programs and Service versus the current 97 percent in determining its allocations for school districts. That will result in a 3 percent increase in the total cost of education that must be shared between the state and local taxpayers. It goes into effect in 2018-2019.
- Allowing new or newly expanded pre-kindergarten programs to get a state allocation based on their projected enrollment, modified by actual enrollment data once school starts. This will give these new programs money up front, much like that afforded to the state charter schools, and goes into effect in 2018-2019.
- Removal of the declining enrollment adjustment by basing all student counts on the October counts of the two most recent calendar years prior to the year of funding. This change eliminates the option of using the average of 6 pupil counts for April 1 and October 1 in the 3 most recent calendar years prior to the year of funding.
- Elimination of the funding provided by the state to transition to proficiency-based diplomas.
- Elimination of the funding provided to implement performance evaluation systems for teachers and principals.
- A requirement that at least 50 percent of the increase in a unit’s state share of the cost of education for 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 be used to lower local tax contributions for schools. The caveat is special warrant articles passed by voters designating the use of additional funds will be honored this year.
- Lowering the per-pupil amount allocated for system administration and tying future funding to what are being called School Management and Leadership Centers. The law envisions 9 to 12 of these centers being established through inter-local agreements among school districts and other entities, including CTE regions, charter schools and municipalities. These agreements would allow for shared services covering four categories: Instructional; Education Support; Central Office and Facilities and Transportation. Participation is voluntary but tied to system administration funding.
The budget also contains language that would require districts to report how much money is going into direct instruction, and does not count student and staff support services. Those support services include things like curriculum development, testing, all instruction-related technology, professional development, truancy prevention, guidance counseling and psychological and physical health services for students. The direct instruction targets in the budget are:
- 61 percent for 2018-2019
- 63 percent for 2019-2020
- 65 percent for 2020-2021
- 67 percent for 2021-2022
- 70 percent for 2022-2023
In the Department of Health and Human Services portion of the budget, final negotiations took money from the Fund for Healthy Maine to fill a budget hole and left School Based Health Centers without that funding source. There was no advance warning of the cut, and DHHS health center contracts that already had been mailed to schools were rescinded late last month.
Language in the budget is still being explored and clarification and guidance will be shared through future bulletins as it becomes available.