What is the truth about really boosting educational equity?

In November voters in Maine will have a chance to vote for passage of Question 2 – Stand Up for Students – an initiative that would help local school districts provide a strong, equitable education for all Maine students.

Passage of the initiative would mean the Legislature would fund education in all districts in Maine at 55% of the cost of education. In 2004 voters went to the polls to ask the Legislature to do just that – to fund education at a level of 55%. The measure passed easily in 2004, however the Legislature failed to enact the will of the people, and has never yet funded schools at the level requested by the people.

The result to towns of the Legislature’s failure has been very negative. Towns have had to pick up an increasing share of costs. This has caused taxes to rise in all towns and has caused less advantaged towns to cut educational programming.

At present, less advantaged towns are unable to provide the same education as towns like Camden and Yarmouth, which have richer tax bases. The people living in less advantaged towns cannot easily raise taxes – citizens are already having a terrible time paying for the basics of life and cannot pay more. People in wealthier towns are willing to pay higher taxes in order to support educational programming because they are not struggling as much financially.

The result is that students in towns like Camden, Yarmouth, Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth attend very different schools from their peers. Sometimes towns just a few miles down the road offer totally different educational experiences.

Raising the percentage of the cost of education funded by the State to 55% would increase local towns’ ability to pay for important educational programs such as Afterschool programs, Summer School, the Arts, World Languages, STEM, and AP classes. The money would also help districts keep class sizes down, provide valuable learning materials, and retain ed techs – who are so important to the functioning of our schools.

The money available to many towns in Maine would increase to a tune of several million dollars.

School equity is the foundation of a democracy. All students should be receiving an education worthy of a president’s child. In a democracy we believe that we should all have equal opportunity. This is what is right and just – and it is also practical.

There is no way to know who the next great world leader or climate scientist will be. We should be educating all of our students as if it were he or she. We need all the greatness we can get in order to solve the world’s problems. We can’t afford to neglect so many of our children.

When we fail to provide the programming in the Arts, languages, STEM -all intended to develop critical thinking, creative thinking, and 21st century skills – and when we pack classrooms with large groups of students and load teachers down with enormous caseloads – we are not providing an education worthy of our children in Maine. We need to do better.

The economy in Maine is vulnerable. We are the oldest state in the nation, with an inadequate workforce in terms of numbers. If our students do not graduate high school ready to succeed in college and the work place – our economy will be deeply troubled in the years to come.

Please talk to your friends and neighbors. Explain to them that it is for the good of the people of Maine that we all vote ‘yes’ on Question 2 in November. We need tax relief. And we need equitable schooling.

Kathreen Harrison

About Kathreen Harrison

Kathreen Harrison is a public school teacher in Maine. She has a master’s degree from Bank Street College of Education and a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College. She has worked in a variety of schools in New York and Maine in a number of capacities – French teacher, gifted and talented teacher, elementary school teacher, and curriculum coordinator for island schools. She has lived in Maine for 20 years and has a particular interest in school reform.