DOE supports funding formula changes

The Maine Legislature’s Education Committee held public hearings May 4 on 10 bills seeking to make changes to the formula that determines how state funds for education are distributed among local school districts.

Jim Rier, Deputy Commissioner of the Maine Department of Education, offered testimony supporting L.D. 1274, An Act to Restore Equity in Education Funding.

The Department of Education took no position on the other nine bills. Instead, Commissioner Stephen Bowen urged legislators to compile a list of issues addressed by the separate bills, and direct Department of Education staff members to conduct more research.

Testimony of Jim Rier, Deputy Commissioner of Education

Senator Langley, Representative Richardson, and Members of the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs:

My name is Jim Rier, and I am here today representing the Administration speaking in support of L.D. 1274 An Act to Restore Equity in Education Funding.

We support consideration of the impact of various EPS components on education funding, especially for areas hard-hit by rapid changes in property valuation and declining enrollment.  President Raye’s bill works directly on those elements of the formula, including smoothing out the effects of rapidly-rising valuation and the impact that EPS pupil-teacher ratios and other ratios have had on smaller school administrative units.

President Raye’s bill aims to ensure that the formula meets its goal of providing equitable support for all students, and we support that effort.  We look forward to working with the Committee to determine how changes to the funding formula can be effectively implemented to meet the goal of equity.

For these reasons, the Department of Education is in support of L.D. 1274 An Act To Restore Equity in Education Funding.  I would be happy to answer any questions the Committee may have, and we will be available for work sessions on this bill.

Memo from Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen

TO: Senator Brian Langley, Chair; Representative David Richardson, Chair; and Members of Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs

FROM: Stephen L. Bowen, Commissioner, Maine Department of Education

DATE: May 4, 2011

SUBJECT: Public Hearings for May 4, 2011 on Education Funding Bills

You are holding a public hearing today on 10 bills relating to education funding under Maine’s Essential Programs and Services Fund Act, Title 20-A, chapter 606-B. Some of the bills propose specific “tweaks,” large and small, to address concerns about one or more elements of the funding law; others question the equity or adequacy of the funding formula, as a whole.

The Department of Education is not taking a position on the individual bills, except for L.D. 1274. Instead, we would like to suggest a way for you to approach the many ideas and questions that legislators have brought forth with these bills. We urge you to consider the proposed changes in a comprehensive manner, rather than through individual pieces of legislation. As many of you know from past experience, a single change to the EPS law can have many consequences, intended and unintended. A change that helps one type of school unit can harm another. Addressing one problem in one bill may cause problems for other communities.

Rather than acting on bills, we suggest that you create a list of problems that the bills are intended to address, and direct this Department to conduct research and gather information that will help you understand whether there is a problem, where the problems lie, and how they might be addressed by changes to the formula. Questions might include the following:

  • What level of variation exists in the funding that supports individual students; state, local and total funding?
  • Is property value an appropriate way to allocate costs?
  • Are there types of costs that are not recognized in EPS, but should be?
  • Are the costs recognized in EPS an accurate reflection of actual cost?

We would be happy to work with you to formulate a list of questions, data and research for the Department to pursue over the interim. We will be available at your work session on these bills, and look forward to working with you on the funding formula, through whatever process you choose.