Local residents have been picking up an increasing portion of education costs in Maine in the years since the recession, according to an analysis of state budget documents by a think tank in Washington, D.C.

State funding for Maine’s K-12 public schools declined 9 percent between 2008 and 2015, says the report, released Wednesday by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Local spending was up 14 percent over the same period – bringing overall state and local spending on education up 3 percent.

Federal spending over the same period was down 9 percent, according to the study.

“If we neglect our schools, we diminish our future,” said Michael Leachman, one of the study’s authors. Leachman is director of state fiscal research with the center, a left-leaning organization that supports federal and state policies to reduce poverty and inequality.

Nationally, Maine was ranked 19th in the list of states that had cut state funding the most, according to the study.

Rep. Victoria Kornfield, D-Bangor, said the figures reveal priorities.

“I think what this says is that the state, with all their talking, does not value education that highly, whereas the citizens in individual towns do value it very highly and are willing to sacrifice and pay more through their property tax,” said Kornfield, a former teacher who co-chairs the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.

She said lawmakers are working to lower education costs through efficiencies, such as a current task force examining ways to lower special education costs, which have increased dramatically in recent years. Other costs, such as contractual wages and benefits, are fixed and impossible to change.

The report found that the recession sharply reduced state revenue, and while emergency federal aid prevented deeper cuts, many states made spending cuts to address budget shortfalls.

Arizona cut state education spending the most – 37 percent – between 2008 and 2015, according to the report. In North Dakota, where an oil boom boosted revenues, state funding increased 96 percent over the same period. The next highest increase was 31 percent, in Illinois.

Nationally, 29 states were spending less total school funding per student in 2015 than they were in 2008, according to the center, which also used spending data from the U.S. Census Bureau in compiling its report. In 19 states, local government funding per student fell over the same period.

The impact of reduced state funding, Leachman said, can hurt efforts to expand pre-K programs, to recruit and retain staff, to lower classroom size and to increase teacher development programs.

“Deep cuts in state K-12 spending can undermine those reforms by limiting the funds generally available to improve schools and by terminating or undercutting specific reform initiatives,” the study said.

Leachman said it was “concerning” that some states, including Maine, continue to debate cutting taxes when education spending has already been cut.

“That’s just digging the hole deeper,” he said Tuesday. “Income taxes are the prime source for school funding. It’s just going to make it harder for you to adequately fund your schools.”

Maine funds education through a state “essential programs and services” formula, which determines how much money is needed for each school district to provide a baseline education. The formula also determines what percentage of that total amount the state will pay, and what percentage the local community will pay.

A local community can choose to spend more that what the state determines is the amount needed for a “baseline” education. About two-thirds of Maine communities have school budgets bigger than the baseline amount in the formula.

Among the formula’s key factors are:

State valuation. Wealthier towns are expected to fund more, if not almost all, of their school costs. So-called “low receiver” or wealthy towns get less money, and poorer towns get more.

Student body profile. The state pays a per-pupil amount, but increases that figure for students who need special education services or are disadvantaged.

Staff-to-student ratio. The state determines baseline staffing levels needed for every employee, such as one elementary teacher for every 17 students and one health worker for every 800 students. This year, Gov. Paul LePage increased the class size ratio, resulting in less money for teachers.

Support costs. The state pays a flat per-pupil amount for certain costs, such as $367 per elementary school pupil for supplies and $1,073 per student for operations and maintenance. In the most recent budget, the governor cut administration costs from $235 per student to $135 per student.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: noelinmaine

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