Maine cuts to school funding since the start of the recession are among the largest in the nation, and the deepest in New England, according to a new study released today. The report by the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), Most States Still Funding Schools Less than before the Recession, found that Maine has cut investment in K-12 education by 13.3 percent since 2008, a deeper cut than 38 other states. Among New England states, Maine has cut per capita student spending by $736 since 2008, while Vermont per student spending is $7 below pre-recession levels. The other four states have all increased spending.
Maine’s per-pupil spending is below the other New England states. Based on the latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, Maine’s 2012 per pupil spending was $12,819. New Hampshire was next lowest in New England at $13,593 per student while Connecticut and Vermont were the highest at $16,274 and $16,040, respectively.
The state’s failure to make needed investments in education has serious consequences. These cuts potentially compromise education quality and economic growth. They also pass the buck to local school districts, placing even more pressure on local property taxpayers.
- Putting Maine’s Economic Future at Risk. Education funding reductions come at a cost to Maine’s long-term economic future. By undermining education funding, the cuts make it less likely Maine can develop the highly skilled workforce needed to compete in today’s global economy.
- Compromising Education Quality. Recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers is a critical factor in assuring strong student achievement. But recruiting and retaining top teaching talent is much more difficult when school districts are slashing their budgets. Maine’s teacher salaries are 17 percent below the national average, and the lowest of any state in New England. Cuts to state funding make it even harder for Maine schools to offer competitive wages that would help to lure and keep top teachers. In one regional school district in Central Maine, teachers voluntarily took at $225 per year pay cut to solve the district’s budget woes resulting from cuts in state aid for education. To make matters worse, new unfunded mandates including implementation of the common core and a teacher evaluation system mean schools have to do more with less funding.
- Increasing Property Taxes. One of the few ways schools can offset state funding cuts for education in order to avoid teacher layoffs, reduced course offerings, and class size increases is to raise property taxes. This has already happened in many communities around Maine.
The experience of other states demonstrates that Maine could have chosen a different path that included a more balanced approach between new revenue and spending cuts. Unfortunately the 2011 state tax cuts that ultimately provide the greatest benefit to Maine’s wealthiest residents mean that funding for critical investments in education and public safety will be even harder to come by in the future. Today’s CBPP report is a reminder of the consequences of such decisions.