Maine voters can make good on a promise we made to our students a decade ago

By Beth French and Gerry French, Special to the BDN

In our house, education is important. To say we are supporters and active participants in our local schools is an understatement. Anyone who’s involved with local schools sees the daily impact of underfunding public education. For teachers, it can be hard to get basic consumable supplies for their classrooms or updated curriculum materials. Schools are changing rapidly to meet the needs of all kids in our ever-changing economy, but teachers often don’t have the necessary tools. In the current environment of austerity, up-to-date texts and materials continue to elude too many classroom teachers.

The impact of underfunding schools can be seen most acutely during the school budget season. Year after year, it’s the same song and dance: The state fails to fund our schools appropriately, pushing more of the burden onto local property taxpayers. School boards are forced to determine which programs to trim, which programs’ needs go unmet and how high a property tax increase the community can bear.

Students and teachers need more support. Students need more after-school and high-quality summer programs, which research proves is crucial to student learning. Some children may need additional mental health and behavioral health support. The number of students receiving free or reduced lunch in Belfast and Searsport has increased every year since 2006, and nearly 50 percent of all students in Maine live so close to the poverty threshold that they qualify for a free or reduced price lunch at school.

Our students have more challenges than ever before. Every bit of current research shows kids who live in poverty will have more challenges — learning and behavioral — to struggle against. If we expect our schools to provide the next generation with the skills they need to be successful and to escape the trap of generational poverty, we must give our schools the resources they need to help more kids with the challenges they face.

Question 2 provides an opportunity to meet these challenges by providing additional funding to Maine’s schools with a 3 percent surtax on annual income over $200,000.

The opposition to Question 2 has spread false and misleading information about the measure. For example, they have said the funds generated from Question 2 will go into the state’s General Fund. This is not true, and the ballot initiative clearly states that the money raised will go into a separate fund that can be used only to provide more funding to schools.

The opposition also has said that some towns, especially rural communities won’t receive any of the money. Again, this is inaccurate. Of the towns they cite that may not receive any money, nearly half of them don’t operate schools. And rural schools will benefit. In Belfast, schools are estimated to receive nearly $2 million more in direct state aid, while Searsport will see an increase of more than $700,000. In fact, 94 percent of Maine students will go to better funded schools once Question 2 passes, and it will increase on average the state contribution to schools by $918 per student, according to the Maine Center for Economic Policy.

On Nov. 8, voters in Maine will have a chance to make good on the promise that was made a decade ago: that the state will fund 55 percent of the cost of public education. The state has never met that obligation. We have the chance to provide our schools with the resources they need to reach every child. Our family will be voting yes on Question 2, and we hope other families will join us.

Beth French is an elementary school teacher for RSU 71 in Belfast. Gerry French serves on the school board for RSU 20 in Searsport.

Link to the Bangor Daily News article

WHAT QUESTION 2 MEANS FOR MAINE CITIES & TOWNS

Local elected leaders lay out what passing Question 2 means for their schools and their students, cite “significant impact”

PORTLAND, ME | OCTOBER 18, 2016 – Elected leaders from Androscoggin, Cumberland, and York Counties today laid out the transformational difference that passage of Question 2 could mean for their schools and their students. Speaking at a news conference in Portland, a State senator, a mayor, a school committee member, and chairman of a select board all explained how voting YES On 2 would provide more educational opportunities for kids all across Maine.

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling said, “I’m voting YES ON 2 because it will have a significant impact in helping us meet the educational needs of our kids, while simultaneously helping us reduce property taxes.”

Ranking member of the Taxation Committee, Senator Nate Libby from Lewiston, added, “The state’s failure to fund 55% of local education has created perennial budget crises for Lewiston Public Schools. Locally we struggle to provide the best public education possible despite our struggle to reduce class size and pay our teachers more. Property taxpayers, particularly those on fixed incomes, are at the limit. Mainers’ approval of Question 2 would bring about $4 million dollars to Lewiston schools, helping to relieve the burden on working families and seniors. That’s a significant impact.”

Westbrook School Committee member Veronica Bates said, “The single most valuable gift that we, as adults, can give to our children is a full education. Schools and teachers are unable to provide that gift without essential resources.”

More than 100 school board members and municipal councilors from across Maine, north to south, east to west, are lending their support to Stand Up for Students and urging Mainers to vote YES ON 2. (Click here for the full list.)

Commentary: ‘Yes’ on Question 2 would help education, now that Legislature has failed mandate

Lawmakers haven’t spent what voters demanded for school support, and now is the time to insist on more.

NEWPORT — Passing Question 2 will help solve Maine’s education funding crisis, one perpetuated by those we’ve already asked to fix it.

In 2004, Maine voters overwhelmingly mandated that the state fund 55 percent of the cost of education. Subsequent Legislatures and governors have yet to comply with this law, funding progressively less every year. In 2015-16, the state paid only 47.5 percent.

We feel this failure as local property taxes continue to rise even as we are forced to make deeper cuts to our schools.

Voters in my school district, Regional School Unit 19, are among those who’ve seen the worst of this trend despite having the most power to reverse it. We’re represented by two of the most powerful men in Maine, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, and Assistant Senate Majority Leader Andre Cushing.

Those titles carry an incredible amount of influence, which both have used to advance their priorities. But their legislative records and budgets passed on their watch indicate that those priorities have not involved ensuring the level of state education funding voters demanded.

Citizens in towns comprising RSU 19 should be outraged by this, especially considering our recurring budget crisis and the fact that the state’s contribution to RSU 19 schools has decreased by over $2 million in five years. Voters should contacttheir elected representatives to ask why they have continually failed, especially as they’ve run on a platform of keeping taxes low.

But voters need to know what answer is acceptable before asking, because Fredette and Cushing have specious arguments ready.

Indeed, a recent joint campaign mailer proclaims they “voted to allocate an additional $15 million for school funding … . We will also launch a blue ribbon commission to reform public education … .”

That sounds impressive.

But the $15 million was allocated only after schools found themselves facing another shortfall because of more projected state funding cuts. It was also long after school districts had further slashed education because of the proposed cuts, weakening our communities and state. This would be like your boss withholding your paycheck and then deciding to give you 5 percent of it after one of your children starved to death.

The 2012 Legislative Council spent $450,000 to hire Picus and Associates to analyze Maine’s education funding. Even by the most basic standards, Picus estimated, the state is underfunding education by $260 million annually. Now they want to create a blue ribbon commission to study the same thing? This would be like my 5-year-old commissioning a study to determine why there’s crayon on the wall.

Let’s assume I, as a farmer, tell my employees to harvest 55 percent of the tomatoes before a frost; I’ll take care of the rest myself. They harvest 47.5 percent and call it good. After I complain, they pick 5 percent of the remaining tomatoes, come back expecting praise and suggest spending money to study why my business is suffering.

Our elected officials explain that it’s complicated. There are lots of programs to fund.

Maybe my farmhands noticed the grass needed mowing, a fence needed repair and the tractor had a flat tire. They picked 47.5 percent of the tomatoes, mowed 25 percent of the grass, repaired the fence and patched the tire.

By some standards, that’s pretty good. But I, as the employer, specifically directed them to focus their energy on the tomatoes. If all the tomatoes get picked, then and only then can we focus on other problems. School funding is like that.

There are actually very few spending policies Maine voters have directly mandated. But those we have, by definition, are our highest, collective priorities. In other words, they are not on the same level as other policies. Nor should they be treated as such. If you don’t understand the distinction between levels of obligation, try paying only 47.5 percent of your mortgage this month. After all, you likely have a long list of other priorities.

Mainers value education because we understand that the future of our communities depends upon our children’s ability to become diverse, productive, happy adults, ready to face a rapidly changing world. We sent this message to our elected officials and created a law to dictate our priorities to them. We have a procedure to deal with those who haven’t done what we’ve asked.

Meanwhile, please vote “yes” on Question 2 – Stand Up for Students (something elected officials should have been doing since at least 2004). Passing Question 2 provides $157 million for K-12 education and requires the money directly benefit classroom instruction and student learning.

Link to Portland Press Herald article

Question 2 Will Give Students a Chance to Succeed

“As a student, I deserve a chance to succeed and that requires more resources, better books, better materials, and enough supplies. This initiative will help all students in Maine so we all have a fair shot at a good future.”

That’s what my daughter Elise said when I told her about Question 2, The Stand Up for Students campaign that is offering a referendum for the Nov. 8 ballot that would increase funding for our public schools by more than $157 million.

The proposal is funded by a three percent surcharge on the incomes of the wealthiest Mainers. It won’t apply to individuals who make less than $200,000; those who do would pay an additional $30 for every $1,000 they earn above $200,000.

This 3 percent fee on the top two percent of Maine households would generate about $157 million for our schools. Here in Brunswick, it would mean an additional $3 million in education funding.

I’ve lived in Brunswick for over 20 years. My family and I are proud to call Brunswick home and I am very lucky that both my children can attend public schools in Brunswick.

But over the past few years, I’ve seen first-hand that our schools are being asked to do more and more with less and less. Brunswick, like many communities, has been shortchanged by the state.

Even though voters told the state in 2003 to fund 55 percent of the cost of public education, the state hasn’t kept its promise. While costs go up every year, state funding for our schools has actually declined.

When the state fails to adequately fund schools, local schools like ours are faced with the awful decision of what services to cut and how much to raise property taxes.

In Brunswick we have made many tough choices, including eliminating positions such as reading and math specialists that help our struggling students.

My children have seen the effects of inadequate school funding in their classrooms.

My son Everett is an 9th grader at Brunswick High School. He loves science, especially chemistry, he supports the Stand up for Students Campaign so that students don’t have to learn in an underfunded school environment.

My daughter Elise is a sixth grader at Brunswick Junior High School. While she loves her school and her classes, she also wants the state to do more for all kids, which is why she’s supporting the Stand Up for Students Campaign.

Elise loves music. We are lucky to have a wonderful music program here in Brunswick but too many schools across the state don’t have a music program because they are lacking the funds.

As Elise says, “we all deserve to have the opportunity to express ourselves for who we are through music and art.”

While my children and I are proud to support the Stand Up for Students campaign, I know this initiative is not just about my children and my property taxes and my local public schools.

Supporting our schools helps us all, not only as parents and taxpayers, but as Mainers. There is no better investment than our kids and our schools.

Voting “YES” on Question 2 is our best opportunity at this time to better fund our schools and to simultaneously lower our property taxes.

We all will benefit when our schools are well funded and when we are doing everything we can to provide every child with the best educational opportunities possible.

Teresa Gillis represents District 3 on the Brunswick School Board.

 

 

PASSAGE OF QUESTION 2 WILL EXPAND AND IMPROVE PRE-K EDUCATION

YES ON 2 increases state PreK funding by 15.2%

AUGUSTA, ME | OCTOBER 6, 2016 – PreK programs in Maine are not meeting the needs of students who need them the most. In 2015-16, nearly 29% (54 out of 188) of Maine school districts that enrolled kindergarten students had no PreK program. That means nearly 8,000 students enrolled in Kindergarten, but didn’t attend a public PreK, despite extensive research showing the benefits of high quality preschool. The lack of available programs, due to a lack of funding, is one of the major reasons so many students are left without the opportunity to attend a public PreK program.

“Question 2 provides increased funding needed for this crucial program,” said John Kosinski, Campaign Manager for YES ON 2. The campaign today released a white paper on what YES ON 2 means for PreK education in Maine. (Read the paper here.)

Currently, only 2% of Maine’s total allocation under the school funding formula is attributable to public preschool programs. The Stand Up for Students initiative, which is Question 2 on the November ballot, will increase funding for public schools by $157 million, bringing state funding up to the voter mandated 55% level. Of that additional funding, public PreK programs will see a 15.2% increase, which equates to $3.4 million more.

“Some rural and urban area school districts don’t have the funds to create a pre-k program in their schools,” said Suzen Polk-Hoffses, a PreK teacher in Milbridge. “Question 2 would provide rural and urban school districts the funds they would need to implement a quality pre-k program in their local schools.

In addition to increasing availability of PreK to school districts with current programs, Question 2 will also provide the funding for more school districts to start PreK programs and reach more four-year-olds in the communities in which they live.

 

Letter to the editor: Question 2 will support teaching common sense, work ethic

Link to Portland Press Herald story

The way for society to thrive is to provide opportunities to the next generation. A good public education enables people to contribute to sustainable progress and positive growth. Therefore, as a small-business owner and a father, I support Question 2, the Stand Up for Students initiative.

We have signs in my retail store that state: “We do not teach common sense.” I’m often amazed at the lack of motivation and common sense displayed by too many customers.

Many people never gain the motivation, confidence and work ethic that come from setting tasks and accomplishing goals.

Too many bad parents don’t get it; their children suffer and perpetuate the downward spiral with substance abuse and welfare.

Better education and encouragement are needed to help children succeed. Question 2 will provide public schools and educators with the funds necessary to ensure we continue to produce individuals who go on and do great things in the world.

Mike Fink

pawnbroker; notary public; owner, Guitar Grave

Portland

Gov. Paul LePage wants to shift education funding to local districts

Link to Lewiston Sun Journal Article

Gov. Paul LePage said Tuesday he wants to push the cost of paying school superintendents to the local level.

LePage’s comments came during his regular radio appearance on WVOM and offered one of the first glimpses of what to expect from his next state budget proposal, which is due in January.

“All of the backroom operations will be done at the [school] units but if a school district wants to have a principal and a superintendent, the locals will have to pay for it,” said LePage. “The problem is not the education system. The problem is our attitude here in Maine. We believe in home rule. If you believe, then be willing to pay for it. Not the state. It should not be the state’s burden. It should be the local community’s burden.”

LePage has long lamented the number of superintendents in Maine and pointed to other states like Florida, a much more populous state that has far few superintendents, as examples of what Maine’s public school administration system should look like. This topic usually comes up when LePage talks about school funding, which he said is far too tilted toward administrative costs.

LePage’s latest criticism of Maine school administrators came during a conversation about his opposition to Question 2 on the Nov. 8 ballot.

John Kosinski of the Maine Education Association, the union that represents Maine teachers, reacted by saying that if LePage is concerned about administrative costs, he should support the Stand Up for Students initiative, which is Question 2 on the November ballot. The initiative would place a 3 percent tax on individual income over $200,000 and earmark the money for public schools — and specifically states that the money cannot be used for administration costs. Kosinski said LePage’s proposal to shift the cost of superintendents to the local level is another example of his ongoing efforts to shift costs to the local level through tax cuts for higher earners, reducing municipal revenue sharing and pushing teacher retirement costs to local taxpayers.

“I’m not surprised to hear the governor say he’s going to push more costs onto local towns,” said Kosinski. “That’s what we’ve seen for the past six years. … Every state has a different structure for how they manage their schools. … The governor doesn’t tell the whole story. What I know is our schools are trying to do the best they can with limited resources.”

LePage called Question 2 the “scariest” of all five referendums on the November ballot because it would drive away professionals — including doctors, dentists and entrepreneurs — who would be subject to the new taxes.

“Why would I go to Maine for the privilege of paying a higher income tax when I could go to New Hampshire, where there is no income tax?” said LePage.

LePage also argued that school spending by state government has gone from $892 million a year when he took office to about $1.1 billion now. While that’s true, most of the increase is due to the Legislature adding tens of millions of dollars of education money to LePage’s budget proposals, which LePage then vetoed for a variety of reasons. LePage has proposed modest increases that education professionals say have failed to keep up with the increasing cost of public education.

“I have been the most pro-education governor in the history of this state,” said LePage. “I have undone a lot of stuff that was poorly done by other governors.”

LePage, who has faced years of criticism for his austere education proposals, has said in the past that his final two years in office would be marked by more efforts at education reform. It looks like that will start in his next budget proposal, though he acknowledged he expects modest progress at best.

“I’m suggesting that it will be an election campaign issue in two years,” said LePage. “It will get here but it will probably not get here right away.”

Maine among worst places in country to make living as a teacher, financial website says

Link to WGME story

BANGOR, Maine (BDN) — If you want to become a teacher, Maine is among the toughest places in the country to make a living once you step into the classroom, according to a report released Monday by a finance website.

WalletHub, which regularly releases online state rankings on issues ranging from education to taxes, says Maine is the 45th-best state in the nation to be a teacher, when it comes to such factors as salary and income growth potential, beating out only South Dakota, Missouri, Oregon, Arizona, West Virginia and Hawaii.

“Most educators don’t pursue their profession for the money,” the Wallethub report states. “Despite their critical role in shaping young minds, teachers across the U.S. are shortchanged every year.”

Maine’s public school teachers ranked 48th in average starting salary and 49th in median annual salary, according to the website. Both numbers were adjusted to reflect cost-of-living differences.

The state’s public schools also aren’t getting as much to educate each student as schools in other parts of the country. Per-student spending on public schools ranks 46th in the nation, according to the study.

“The WalletHub survey confirms what teachers all across Maine already know: Our schools are underfunded and teachers are underpaid,” Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the Maine Education Association, said in an email Monday. “Maine teachers have said for years our schools need more funding in order to provide equal opportunities for all students.”

Maine performed much better in terms of its student-teacher ratio. The state’s small, largely rural population means its classrooms aren’t as crowded as some states. Maine ranked third, just behind Vermont and North Dakota. Maine also ranked close to the middle of the pack — 22nd — in terms of school safety, a metric based on the percentage of public school teachers who reported being threatened or harmed by a pupil in the past year, according to WalletHub.

WalletHub previously classified Maine as having some of the best school systems in the country, ranking the Pine Tree State eighth in the nation in a report released in August. That ranking was based on appearances in the U.S. News and World Report top schools list, graduation and dropout rates, test scores, student-teacher ratios and other factors.

In its latest report, WalletHub indicates that, in addition to low pay, teachers nationwide also face growing pressure to improve the performance of their students and themselves amid shifting expectations and state and national policies.

The Maine School Management Association and Maine Department of Education did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

“Regardless of the issues plaguing the profession, many educators will continue to follow their passion and serve the purpose larger than themselves,” the report states.

Maine Center For Economic Policy Finds Tax Cuts For Wealthy Have Hurt Maine Communities & Public Schools

New report says Question 2 will promote greater opportunity for low-income students and will grow Maine’s economy

 AUGUSTA, ME | SEPTEMBER 19, 2016 – The Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP) today released a report, Moving Maine Students to the Head of the Class—the results of several months of study—which offers a detailed analysis why Question 2, the Stand Up for Students campaign for tax fairness and equal educational opportunity, will benefit Maine students and communities.

The report finds, “Tens of millions of dollars in recent tax breaks drive the reduction in the share of state education funding. Not only do these cuts predominately benefit wealthy Mainers, they compromise state capacity to invest in education. Since 2011, wealthy families in Maine have benefited from two decreases in their top income tax rate that gave them tax breaks much larger than the income tax breaks for low- and moderate-income Mainers. During the same period state sales tax increases, which disproportionately impact low- and moderate-income Mainers, offset some but not all of the revenue loss.”

“The MECEP study is an exhaustive piece of research that underscores the need for the State of Maine to meet its funding obligation,” said John Kosinski, campaign manager for Yes On 2. “Opponents are quick to offer slogans and catch phrases against this effort, but they offer no solution. Yes On 2 is a solution, and the MECEP research bears that out.”

 

 

Vote yes on Question 2

Printed in the Lewiston Sun Journal – August 14, 2016

Life can be unfair — and it sure isn’t fair right now when it comes to taxes in Maine. Do you know that if you make $40,000 or $1,000,000 you’re taxed at the same rate?

Now, let’s look at how school funding works: The state and the voters made a promise to fund education at 55 percent. The state hasn’t met this promise so the burden got shifted to the towns and the cities. The only way they could try to close the gap is through property taxes. Wealthy towns could do it; less affluent towns couldn’t. The losers in this “give breaks to the wealthy” mentality are students.

Most towns and cities can’t afford to increase property taxes to make up for the gap created by empty promises. So, while the gap grows, Augusta keeps giving a tax break to the wealthiest 2 percent.

Question 2 asks them to pay their fair share on behalf of students all across the state. Question 2 puts $157 million back into public education. If Question 2 passes, the wealthiest Mainers will be paying a bit more — 3 percent on every $1,000 over $200,000. That’s $30 on $1,000.

Auburn, for example, will receive $2,784,294 and Lewiston, $3,154,086. That money can only be used for direct classroom instruction, including teachers, school nurses and other critical public school personnel. Not for testing or administrators. The money goes directly into classrooms, where it will do the most good.

I hope others will join with me and vote “yes” on Question 2 on Nov. 8

 

Carl Bucciantini, Greene