January 8, 2013

Opponents challenge LePage on education funding

Rep. James Campbell, I-Newfield, says he has drafted a bill to use state revenue from the Oxford Casino to fully fund K-12 education.

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — A state representative from southern Maine said Tuesday he has drafted two bills to address funding mechanisms for K-12 and charter-school funding.

The announcement came at a Tuesday press conchchference headlined by Portland Mayor Michael Brennan and Maine Education Association President Lois Kilby-Chesley to criticize Gov. Paul LePage's plans to cut K-12 education funding by $12.6 million as part of a larger package of cuts to curtail and balance the current year's budget, couching cuts as a cost-shift to municipal taxpayers.

Rep. James Campbell, I-Newfield, said one bill would use General Fund money and revenue available to the state from an Oxford casino to fully fund 55 percent of costs for K-12 education – a standard set by voter initiative in 2004 that has never been met.

He said that bill would provide $83 million in fiscal year 2014 and $99 million in fiscal year 2015 – money necessary to meet that share. He said he'd also be submitting a bill that would force LePage to "find his own money" for charter schools.

Brennan said LePage's curtailment order will cost Portland schools $870,000.

"So I either have to go back and look at increasing property taxes, or we have to cut services, lay off teachers, furlough teachers and look at ways that we will cut education programming that is critical to our students," Brennan said, proposing the Legislature use money from the state's Rainy Day Fund to offset education's share of the curtailment order.

In a release, the MEA said cuts will mean deferred maintenance, curriculum impact and reductions in heating for districts.

"You berate our schools, you verbally attack our educators, you beat down the students in our schools," said Kilby-Chesley, who said she was speaking to LePage. "You cut our funding. You need to ask yourself: Is this what our Maine students deserve?"

A top Republican lawmaker fired back at the MEA.

"It's time for the MEA and their allies to stop campaigning and start offering solutions to Maine's fiscal and educational problems," said House Republican Leader Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, in a statement. "They have proven time and time again that they are concerned first with money, and only second with the best interests of Maine students."

Correction: An earlier version of this story misattributed a mandate that the state provide 55 percent of K-12 education funding to the Legislature. The mistake is corrected above.

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