Mainely Thoughts-Bangor Daily News

By

Hats off to Stand Up for Students! That’s the group behind an initiative to “adequately fund Maine’s public schools.” The group is proposing a 3 percent surcharge on each $1,000 earned over $200,000, with that surcharge going directly to funding instruction.

Voters have been waiting since 2003 for leadership in Maine to fulfill the result of the referendum requiring the state to fund 55 percent of K-12 public education. More than 72 percent of voters wanted the state to reach that funding level. (They got to choose between either immediately reaching the funding level or over time; they chose immediately.) Only 27.19 percent of voters voted against the idea in entirety.

We didn’t get immediate or incremental relief. Instead, local budgets have faced increasing education costs, leading to cuts in programs and increased property tax burdens. Tired of waiting, a group of citizens and businesses have come together with a solution — a relatively minor tweak to the tax code that would effect 2 percent of Maine households, but benefit all of us, raising $110 million. 

Want to improve the economy? Invest in education. Want to intervene in children’s lives before they become adults making problematic choices? Invest in education. Want to nip addiction in the bud? Invest in education. Want to keep young people in Maine? Invest in education that emphasizes the potentials in our state and accesses internship and mentoring. Educate our youth to be entreprenuers, contractors, businesspeople.

Want to make sure the next generation will be good stewards of our economy, our political process, and our communities? Invest in education. Want a long-term strategy for reforming welfare and fighting hunger? Invest in education.

It’s a no-brainer. Schools are hubs in the community, and their outcomes ripple out to touch us all in one way or another. So much of our present and future realities rest in the hands of educators.

I wish the group great success. However, when I was reading about the initiative in the Bangor Daily News article I previously linked to, I thought retired accountant Albert DiMillo offered a couple interesting caveats, one linked to the tax changes included in our last state budget. The other regarded the likelihood of our governor signing “such a proposal into law.”

DiMillo is probably right to speculate that it wouldn’t be likely. Because the governor has clearly established he is willing to ignore the will of the people with his handling of the Land for Maine Future bonds, it’s pretty easy to assume he would do so with the Stand Up for Students proposal. And it would be even easier to satirize the idea that 2014 gubernatorial candidates raised a collective $8,238,300 just for us voters to get a governor who doesn’t care what we think.

But the truth is Gov. Paul LePage is just the latest, and perhaps the most dramatic, of a long line of elected officials to come to Augusta and ignore what voters have been waiting for, for 13 years. Thirteen years later, Maine residents are having to come up with a solution on their own, with no guarantee it will be enacted if supported. That’s sad for our students and sad for all of us.

Link to original article:

State government has had 13 years to fund Maine schools at the level set in law. Enough.

 

Campaign Announcement

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 7, 2015

SUPPORTERS LAUNCH CAMPAIGN TO PROVIDE $110M TO MAINE SCHOOLS

2016 ballot measure would fund public education through 3% surcharge on the top 2%

(PORTLAND) – Citing the need to ensure state funding for public education and reduce the burden for property taxpayers, a group of parents, teachers, students, and community members launched the Stand Up for Students campaign to support a 2016 ballot measure to provide $110 million in additional funding to Maine’s public schools.

“When the State fails to adequately fund schools, local schools like ours are faced with the awfuldecision of which services to cut and how much to raise property taxes,” said Teresa Gillis, a parent of two children in the Brunswick public school system. “Towns are struggling to fill the gap and property taxpayers are paying the price. This referendum will provide more resources for our schools and reduce the burden on property taxpayers.”

Gillis’s son Everett is an eighth grader at Brunswick Junior High and her daughter Elise is a fifth grader at Stowe Elementary. Under the proposed referendum, Brunswick would receive an additional $2 million for its public schools.

While Maine people voted for the state to fund 55% of the cost of public education in 2003, since 2008, the state share of education funding has been decreasing. Towns have been forced to make up the difference, often by raising property taxes, cutting services, or both.

“Our schools have done a remarkable job with limited resources, but we as a state must do more to ensure every child has the opportunity to receive an education that sets them up for success in the future,” added Caitlin Leclair, a teacher at King Middle School in Portland. “It’s time for the state to keep its promise to our schools so that every child can get a great education at a great public school in Maine.”

Under the proposed referendum, approximately two percent of Maine households earning more than $200,000 would pay a surcharge of $30 for every $1,000 over $200,000. This three percent surcharge on the top two percent is expected to generate $110 million.

“We’re asking our top earners to pay a little bit more to help fund our most common and essential public good – the education of our children,” said Michael Hillard, Professor of Economics at the University of Southern Maine. “This initiative is good for students, good for schools, good for taxpayers, and good for Maine.”

In their 2015 Measures of Growth Report, the Maine Development Foundation noted “An educated workforce is critical to helping Maine businesses succeed and to attracting other businesses. Throughout the economy, employers are demanding higher levels of skill and education. Maine workers need the education, knowledge, and skills to meet the need of Maine employers and create opportunities for themselves and others.”

“Investing in our students is one of the best investments we can make in our state and our future,” said John Costin, owner of Veneer Services Unlimited in Kennebunk. “Small business owners like me depend on a well-trained workforce for employees and customers. Ensuring a highly-educated workforce is critical to Maine’s future success.”

Supporters estimate they must collect 62,000 signatures for the referendum to appear on the November 2016 ballot.

Media Contact:

Amy Cookson

arcookson@gmail.com

207-620-4381