Earlier this month, after what seemed like an interminable gridlock, the Legislature and the Governor were finally able to agree on a state budget. The big question is, however, what does it mean for Maine kids? Below, we have provided a brief overview from our MCA Senior Policy Analyst, Rita Furlow.
SCHOOL FUNDING: K-12
This year, the primary focus of budget deliberations centered on education funding. Last November, Maine voters passed a citizen’s initiative designed to achieve 55 percent in state funding for K-12 education, as promised in state statute. The initiative put a 3 percent surcharge on incomes over $200,000 angering many Republican lawmakers—so much so that some were willing to shut down the government over this issue.
In the end, lawmakers eliminated the surcharge but added $162 million to support K-12 education in the state budget. While the funding still does not reach 55 percent as voters had intended, it does significantly increase spending for local school districts.
This budget also included significant changes related to public preschool in the budget. Previously, state funding for preschool programs through the school funding formula was delayed over a year. This delay in funding meant that during the first year, districts had to fund the creation of new preschool classrooms from only local dollars, a significant deterrent to starting new classrooms. Despite enactment of legislation in 2014 that required $4 million of casino revenue for start-up funds for new public preschool programs, this new startup funding was routinely removed from final budget negotiations, making it difficult for programs to get off the ground.
But during this past round of budget negotiations, new language was included in the school funding formula that changes how school districts receive preschool funding. Now funding will occur based on estimates of projected enrollment of preschool students, eliminating the year and a half wait.
An additional change in the school funding formula language will also result in an increase in preschool funding. A change in the definition of “kindergarten” to include four-year old programs will result in these programs also receiving the additional funding. Other changes to school funding include making sure Title 1 dollars supplement not supplant state and local dollars to support school children from low-income homes.
The frenzy around K-12 education funding almost obscured critical threats to Head Start/Early Head Start funding. Head Start/Early Head Start programs provide comprehensive services to Maine’s most vulnerable children and families. In his original budget, the Governor proposed cutting $1.2 million in Head Start funding, which combined with the loss of $575,000 in a one-time expenditure, would have resulted in a loss of $1.8 million.
While the $1.2 million was reinstated during deliberations by the Appropriations Committee, the funding gap remained. But the $575,000 was added into the final budget during last minute negotiations between House Speaker Sara Gideon and the Governor.
FAMILY ECONOMIC SECURITY
Sizable portions of the LIFT bill, An Act to Reduce Child Poverty by Leveraging Investments in Families Today, were also included in the final budget document. The provisions aim to alleviate deep child poverty and create opportunity for Maine families. The budget includes the following elements from the bill:
- The first TANF increase in sixteen years – beginning in October, families will see a 20 percent increase;
- TANF benefits will increase annually to reflect annual increases in cost of living;
- TANF “Housing Special Need” will both increase and become available to more families;
The final budget also includes additional funding for fuel assistance to families and children from low-income households.
There were also changes in the budget relating to the Maine Children’s Growth Council. The new language changes the reporting requirements and provides the Council with $25,000 of annual funding to support its work.
Finally, another last-minute negotiation was a moratorium on rule-making relating to a number of MaineCare rates and reimbursements.
On the negative side of the budget, the administration’s war on public health continued with a $10 million cut to programs supported by the Fund for a Healthy Maine. The cut included the elimination of numerous contracts that had just been implemented on tobacco cessation, obesity prevention, and other public health initiatives for children, such as school-based health centers. This budget removes virtually all public health tobacco prevention funding.