Even though the Legislature adjourned without acting on a major school funding bill, Maine schools will get at least some state funding under an “emergency” designation, officials said Thursday.

A bill authorizing more than $1 billion in state funds for local schools is one of more than 100 bills caught up in a partisan battle in Augusta. On Wednesday, the Legislature returned from a 10-day recess and took up 20 bills that had been vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage. But for the second time in that 10-day span, lawmakers failed to act on the unfinished bills because minority House Republicans who object to voter-approved Medicaid expansion wouldn’t vote to extend the session.

Now it will take a special lawmaking session to take up those bills, which include legislation on dealing with federal tax conformity, a “red flag” bill allowing police to temporarily seize guns from people deemed a threat to the community, and bills funding opioid treatment, direct care workers and nursing homes.

The Maine Department of Education says it has a plan to send out school-funding checks come July 1, when the new fiscal year begins, even if the Legislature doesn’t come back. But it won’t be the full state allocation.

“The legislature must act in order to set the figures used for calculating school funding. If those figures have not been set by July 1, 2018 when the next fiscal year begins, the Department would consider it an emergency situation and conservatively estimated subsidy amounts would be distributed until the legislature acts,” said Department of Education spokeswoman Rachel Paling in an email. She said she did not have details on how the department would determine “conservatively estimated subsidy amounts.”

“School districts should move forward with setting their budgets and that is what we would advise them to do if they were to inquire,” she said. Many districts are in the midst of budget negotiations and sending out school budgets for voter approval.

The Maine School Management Association, which represents superintendents, sent out a notice Thursday urging members to contact lawmakers and ask them to find a way to vote out the funding bill.

“We’re anxious to have our members contact lawmakers to tell them to ‘Get back in there and do your work,’ ” association Executive Director Steve Bailey said. The association issued a similar plea last week, after the Legislature went into recess without taking up the school funding bill and it became clear that lawmakers might not agree on extending the session.

$1 BILLION AT STAKE

At stake is more than $1 billion in general-purpose aid for public schools for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The money represents about half of the funding for school districts across the state, most of which are in the process of drafting next year’s budget.

The department’s plan, Bailey said, sets a bad precedent because it means the Legislature is ceding authority to fund schools to the executive branch.

“We are hoping that approach is not even contemplated or used,” Bailey said of the limited, emergency payments. “We want this taken care of appropriately. That is the expectation as well as the responsibility of the House and the Senate.”

“Funding for public education should be in the hands of legislators who represent the taxpayers, parents, teachers and students in their districts. (School funding) should not be an executive branch decision,” he said.

BILL WOULD SPELL OUT STATE’S SHARE

While the state education funding amount was determined as part of the budget deal in the regular session, the bill caught up in legislative limbo is more than housekeeping. It sets the tax mil rate, and spells out the state and local share. For some districts, the state appropriation makes up more than 70 percent of the district budget.

“Approximately 75 percent of our funding in Lewiston comes from the state of Maine. Absent any (state) funding, we’ll be close to closing our doors,” said Superintendent Bill Webster. “I don’t anticipate that will happen,” he added.

Bailey said some superintendents have told the schools association that they are starting to explore what it would take to float a short-term bond to cover operating expenses until the Legislature “sorts out” the funding issue.

“Folks are concerned with cash flow to meet summer demands,” Bailey said.

Lawmakers could return to a special session if a majority of all the legislative caucuses, including the one-member Independent Green Party caucus, agree to come back to finish their work, or they could wait to be summoned back by Republican Gov. Paul LePage. However, LePage told News Center Maine (WCSH-WLBZ) Thursday he does not intend to call lawmakers back.

Republicans and Democrats in the House tried to reach a deal to extend the session. But House Republicans remained steadfast in their resistance, saying they believe the better path forward was for a special session, even though that would cost taxpayers about $18,000 more per day than if the Legislature had agreed Wednesday to simply extend the current session

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

[email protected]

Twitter: noelinmaine

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