Through a 2004 ballot initiative voters asked the State to fund 55% of the total cost of education. To this day, that funding requirement has never been met. Instead, according to figures from the Department of Education, for the last six years funding for public schools has not kept up with the costs of running those schools.
According to the Maine Department of Education, in the 2015-16 school year:
- The state paid only 47.5% of the total cost of K-12 public education
- The cost of education increased by 2.6%
- Funding did not keep up with that increase
- The State fell $154 million short of reaching the 55% funding level.
Since 2008, the lack of funding at 55% equals a cumulative loss in state funding for public schools of $1.2 billion
A coalition of parents, teachers and other organizations are determined to change that. We are working together on a ballot initiative to better fund our public schools. We collected more than 95.000 signatures to put this simple question before the voters:
Should those making more than $200,000 pay a bit more in taxes in order to give our children the education they need and opportunities they deserve and reduce the property taxes for Maine homeowners?
We think the answer will be a resounding YES!
What does the initiative do?
The ballot initiative would create a 3% surcharge on any taxable income over $200,000. The initiative writes into law that this money MUST be used to fund public schools. What’s more, the initiative actually states the money must be used for direct classroom instruction, including materials and equipment, as well as teachers, school nurses and other critical public school personnel. The initiative would bring Maine to the 55% requirement for state funding for public schools passed by voters in 2004.
What’s the purpose of this?
The 2004 referendum mandated 55% state funding for public education, but didn’t provide a means for funding. Question 2 solves that problem by providing a sustainable source for funding that provides the resources to meet the 55% funding level, and that means fair funding for all schools.
Working class towns in Maine cannot afford to spend as much money for their public schools as richer towns can. Question 2 will help make sure that every student has a shot at a quality education, regardless of his or her background or ZIP code.
Why school funding?
When the State fails to pay its share of school funding, our children and our communities suffer. Cities and towns have to make up the difference, often by raising property taxes, cutting services, or both.
Maine has a lot to offer, including a great quality of life. But the key to building a strong economic future is having a skilled, well-educated workforce that will attract more companies and jobs to the state. This proposal will help us give our kids the skills they need to stay and succeed here in Maine
We’re already spending too much on administration. We don’t need to spend more money. Don’t we just need to spend the money we have more efficiently?
Opponents like to trot that argument out as a way of deflecting from the true crisis, which is that we are grossly underfunding early childhood and K-12 education at the cost of giving kids across Maine the educational foundation they need for a better life.
According to a study by the National Council of State Legislatures, Maine, at 10.59%, actually falls within the national average for spending on administration.
(An editorial in the Portland Press Herald highlighted this.)
What’s more, in 2003 and 2004 voters in Maine demanded the state pay 55% of the cost of public education. The 55% requirement was always intended to be the floor, not the ceiling, for funding our schools. In fact, the school funding formula is designed as an adequacy model of funding, meant to provide an adequate model of education to students. We have failed to provide even the base level of funding that our students and communities need and deserve.
Isn’t the problem that the whole funding formula is bad?
No. In 2010, the Maine Legislature commissioned an independent and thorough study of Maine’s school funding formula. The Picus Report found that Maine’s funding formula is an equitable system.
It also found that Maine underfunds early childhood and K-12 education by roughly $327 million per year.
Will all Maine towns benefit from Question 2 or will some be left out?
All Maine towns will benefit. Here’s why: currently all Maine towns are being shortchanged by the state.
The state is failing to meet its mandate to fund at least 55% of public K-12 education. The state is also mandated to pay 100% of special education—programs that are vital to students with learning challenges. Currently, the state is paying only 35% of the cost of special education.
Passing Question 2 will raise $157 million in state funding. Putting those dollars into classrooms will help all Maine schools.
In 2004, Maine voted for the state to fund 55% of pre-K to 12th grade education. That hasn’t happened. What makes you think this time it will work?
The 2004 referendum that told the legislature to fund K-12 public education at 55% didn’t provide a way to do that. This initiative solves that problem by providing a funding mechanism.
The money raised goes into a specific fund, The Fund to Advance Public Kindergarten to Grade 12 Education. According to the legislation, the fund is established as an interest-bearing account, administered by the Maine Department of Education.
The legislation also specifically states that the use of the fund is to supplement and not supplant general fund appropriations for direct student learning.
How will the $157 million be used?
The law reads: The fund may be used only to pay for portions of the state contribution that constitute direct support for student learning and not for the costs of administration.
In other words, if something directly benefits student learning the money may be used to fund it. New computers? Yes. Updated textbooks? Yes. Added courses? Yes. A new science lab? Yes. State of the art tools in a career and technical center? Yes. Another assistant principal? No. The money must be used to directly support student learning and it specifically cannot be used to fund administration.
For a full reading of the law: maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/citizens/k12.pdf
How are you going to pay for it?
The Stand Up for Students proposal is funded by a 3% surcharge on the wealthiest Mainers’ incomes. Individuals who make less than $200,000 wouldn’t be charged. Those who do would pay an additional $30 for every $1,000 they earn above $200,000.
So you’re trying to tax the rich?
What we’re after is tax fairness. Since 2011, wealthy families in Maine have seen two reductions in their top income tax rate that deliver tax breaks much larger than the income tax breaks for low and moderate income Mainers.
During the same period, increases in the state sales tax, a tax that disproportionately affects low and moderate income Mainers, offset some but not all of the revenue loss.
The combined effect is:
- A $163 million dollar tax break for the top 20% of Maine households each year
- A $37 million tax break for the top 1% of Maine households each year
While the wealthiest have benefitted from huge tax breaks, the rest of us have been left with underfunded schools, higher property taxes, and higher sales taxes.
These cuts in taxes for the wealthy caused major declines in state revenue compared with 2011 levels, and led to cuts in state funding for education and revenue sharing for Maine communities.
Won’t passing Question 2 hurt small businesses?
According to the Maine Center for Economic Policy, an organization dedicated to providing sound budget and fiscal analysis for state government, 96% of small businesses in Maine have taxable income below $200,000 a year.
In fact, small businesses will reap the benefits of Question 2. As Maine employers struggle to attract and retain skilled workers, high school seniors are finding they need more skills than previous generations did to gain entry into the workforce. Demand for skilled workers with post-secondary education—defined to include anything from a graduate degree to industry certification—is on the rise. Employers rely on the K-12 system to prepare students to adapt and meet the needs of a modern workforce.
That’s why nearly 100 owners of small businesses from Biddeford to Bar Harbor, Eliot to Ellsworth, Dixmont to Damariscotta, Rangeley to Rumford, have voiced their strong support for Question 2. (See our list of small business owners.)
If Stand Up for Students passes, won’t wealthy people will leave the state, taking with them their tax revenue and any jobs they may create?
In fact, so-called “tax flight” is a myth. The non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities conducted a study that showed, “The effects of tax increases on migration are, at most, small — so small that states that raise income taxes on the most affluent households can be assured of a substantial net gain in revenue.”
For more information, e-mail Stand Up for Students here.