AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) - The first round in a tough fight over funding for education got underway in Augusta.
After making cuts to education for his supplemental budget, Governor LePage intends to flat fund education for the next two years. Critics say while the governor may be keeping general purpose aid for schools at 895 million for each of the next two years, there are other parts of his budget plan that will lead to cuts in education.
In 2004 voters passed a law requiring the state to pay for 55-percent of the cost of public education. To date the state has never reached that goal and with the Governor's latest proposal it will fall short again.
"We tried to hold the line as much as we could it's not where anybody wants to be but given the huge budget unless folks can find more money for us to reach that 55-percent number then this is what we've got right now", said Stephen Bowen, Commissioner of Education.
The tough task of balancing the budget while meeting the state's educational needs now rests with Legislature's Appropriations Committee, which got an earful today from educators and their supporters.
While the Governor wants education flat funded for the next two years he is also proposing to shift 50-percent of the cost of contributions to the teachers retirement fund over to local communities. It will save the state 14-million dollars a year, but cities and towns will have to somehow come up with that money.
"You have your mandatory costs and that pension obligation would become a mandatory cost immediately and something has to give", said Paul Stearns, Superintendent of SAD 4.
Educators say that will lead to cuts in programs and positions. Sports, music and the arts would likely suffer and teachers would be laid off they say.
Today's Appropriations Committee hearing was the first step in what is shaping up to be another difficult budget debate that will play out over the next few months.