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INFORMATIONAL LETTER:  #72

 

POLICY CODE: LF

 

  

 

TO:                  Superintendents of Schools, School Board Chairs, and Members of the State Board of Education

 

FROM:            J. Duke Albanese, Commissioner of Education

 

DATE:             May 4, 2001

 

RE:                   UPDATE – State Budget, FY ’02-’03 and Selected Legislative Issues

 

             With the calendar showing the month of May, and Maine experiencing the phenomena of skipping over spring and moving directly to summer, I can report that the first session of the 120th Maine Legislature is progressing, albeit slowly, with much important work remaining.

 

            The Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs is wrapping up its work on proposed bills, likely to conclude hearings and work sessions by the end of next week.  Soon the Legislature will find itself in General Sessions, taking final action on scores of proposed bills, while striving to agree to a budget for the next biennium.

 

What follows are brief updates on selected issues.

 

The Biennial Budget, FY ’02-’03 

 

While budget conversations are continuing among members of legislative leadership, important education issues hang in the balance.  General Purpose Aid (GPA) at the $700.3 million level for FY ‘02, an increase of 5.45%, and $718.2 million for ’03, up 2.55%, is before the Legislature along with the Education Committee’s unanimous recommendation for a distribution proposal.  Basically, the Education Committee’s plan and a modification of that plan remain unchanged since the House and Senate couldn’t agree on the budget in late March. 

 

A $4.65 million cushion, guided by eligibility criteria and limited to the effects of changes in statute, is embedded in the Education Committee Plan and in the House proposal.  The Senate version of the budget adds a “second tier”, $1 million cushion (tempers any loss after the first cushion is applied including losses caused by demographic changes). 

   

I must say that I am particularly concerned about the possibility of the Legislature funding on-going programs with one-time monies.  The second year of the budget desperately needs more funding for GPA, and over-committing to other areas, worthy as they might be, could cause difficulty for public schools in FY 2002-03.

 

Part II budget (new and/or expanded spending) deliberations are continuing regarding funding for the continued study of Essential Programs and Services ($75,000 in each year); Mentoring ($250,000 in each year); and statewide support for the Maine Distance Learning Network (ATM) ($578,932 in ’02; $965,791 in ’03).  Yesterday, the Appropriations Committee worked these issues further.  At this point, support for Essential Programs and Services looks good; the Mentoring monies aren’t going as well as hoped for despite the huge potential for these funds to attract matching support from Maine businesses, foundations, and Colin Powell’s America’s Promise.  Regarding the Mentoring initiative, the goal is ambitious – to move from 3,000 to 30,000 trained mentors all across Maine.  As you probably know, the literature and research are replete with evidence that providing each youngster with a caring adult has positive effects.  For example, we’ve shared the following with legislators: students with a trained mentor are – 46% less likely to use drugs; 27% less likely to drink; 52% less likely to skip school; 33% less likely to hit someone; and more likely to be able to build trusting relationships with other adults.

 

Securing funding for the Maine Distance Learning (ATM) has been frustrating.  While the lag time in implementation has haunted the efforts to build a statewide network with broadcast quality and interactive capability, 48 sites will be deployed by the end of this month, 65 by the end of ’02, and 85 by the end of ‘03.  Despite this progress, the Legislature has been reluctant to give us the funds to operate the statewide network – maintenance, service, help-desk kinds of needs.  Recent “hands-on” demonstrations with members of the Education and Appropriations committees have been helpful, but passage of these essential monies is still questionable.  A meeting of superintendents and other educators who either have or will have distance learning sites, is scheduled for May 9th.  An informational session on the Maine Distance Learning Network for all superintendents will be scheduled soon.

 

The Maine Learning Technology Endowment Fund has become a critical piece of the budget deliberations.  Even before the Education Committee’s hearing on LD #1712, legislation which moves forward the plan of the Task Force – the focus of which is 1:1 technology for all 7th and 8th graders and their teachers as Phase I – the Senate budget proposal transferred the $50 million endowment into the Rainy Day Fund to fill in for other spending from that fund.  A second version, the proposal of record for the Senate at this time, preserves the Rainy Day Fund but takes all of the endowment, spending these one-time monies on several continuing expenditure lines.  The House version and the Appropriations Committee recommendations have left the endowment alone.  The Task Force plan is constructed on the assumption that a $50 million endowment exists, thus the promise of these monies going to education is clearly threatened.

 

Other Legislative Issues

 

Concurrent with budget deliberations, the Education Committee has been deliberating LD # 1712, An Act to Implement Recommendations of the Task Force on the Maine Learning Technology Endowment, with a vote to come any day.  The fact that the budget negotiations include the possible taking of the endowment has made the vote on the merits of the Task Force plan difficult.  Interestingly, as this Maine technology initiative continues to be a topic of conversation and debate in the Legislature, it is getting great play elsewhere.  Recently, the

 Education Ministers of the world’s developed nations discussed the Maine proposal!  And, the deliberations on our plan have reached the level of President Putnin in Russia!  Further, Henrico County, Virginia, just two days ago, announced its plan to arm each and every student, grades 6-12, with computer devices.  The first order of 23,000 computers is the largest ever in the school arena.  Maine’s proposal remains the most ambitious, however, since it is statewide and would provide the technology to 32,000 7th and 8th grade students and their teachers forever.  Phase II, the high school grades, would be accomplished through grants from foundations, businesses, and philanthropists.

 

Legislation authorizing a ‘go-forward’ for Essential Programs and Services was reported out “ought to pass” with an unanimous vote by the Education Committee.  The legislation endorses the concept and charges the State Board and the Department to come back next January with a plan for implementation.  As stated earlier, the Appropriations Committee has indicated strong support.

 

Similarly, LD #1762, a school facilities bill outlining recommended changes as put forth by the State Board, the Department, and the Governor, gained support from the Education Committee.  It would add flexibility to the Revolving Renovation Fund while increasing the debt service limit for Major Capital Construction to $90 million in 2006 and $96 million in 2007, over the present $84 million annual cap.  Related directly to the school facilities legislation is the Governor’s recommendation for two $15 million bond issues to be put forth to Maine’s voters.  Without this $30 million, which would be matched with $30 million in local monies, the promise of the further work of the Revolving Renovation Fund would be greatly diminished.

 

The so-called Learning Results omnibus bill (LD #1760) that provides clearer direction in the areas of assessment, district assistance, and graduation requirements linked to Maine’s Learning Results, is being discussed in Committee.  The bill attempts to make statewide rules and statute more consistent with Maine’s Learning Results while answering many local questions about implementation dates.  As you know, present statute calls for the Learning Results to be implemented by the 2002-03 school year.

 

Hopefully, this information proves helpful as you try to move forward at the local level.  I’m sorry that key decisions on GPA have, once again, not been made in a timely fashion as you work toward budget adoption in your school communities.  Issues of funding adequacy, equity, and predictability continue to be difficult for our Legislature, and quite frankly, for other legislatures across the country.

 

Thank you for your continued good work on behalf of Maine’s young people.  Though the challenges are many there is no more important work.