AUGUSTA -- Democratic lawmakers on the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee said Monday they shared the concerns parents and students expressed during a public hearing on Gov. Paul LePage’s budget cuts to education. Students, parents, teachers, and community leaders testified in opposition to the cuts and spoke in favor of fairer tax alternatives.
“We heard powerful testimony from students, parents and teachers opposing the cuts,” said Rep. Bruce MacDonald, D-Boothbay, 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, D-Cape Elizabeth, who serves as the Senate chair of the committee. “We must make sure our schools have the resources they need.”
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.
During the hearing, a fifth-grader from Oakland, Maggie Stokes, told the committee tight school budgets crippled her school. She said school supplies, tables, chairs, and textbooks were in disrepair and that her safety was jeopardy due to a lack of aides and counselors to prevent bullying. “It’s frustrating to all of us that the State of Maine keeps cutting funding for education,” Maggie said. “After all, we are the future of Maine.”
Public hearings on the budget will continue in the coming weeks.