2013-02-15 / Community

Guest Column

Let’s look at budget
Sen. Rebecca Millett

In his annual State of the State address, Gov. Paul LePage spoke about his priorities, including surmounting our energy challenges, fighting domestic violence, growing Maine’s economy and my greatest passion – strengthening Maine’s education system.

He reflected on his inspirational journey out of poverty, reminding us all that we must ensure every child has access to the best education possible. Unfortunately, the governor’s education policies will do little to help children who come from backgrounds like his because they penalize the very schools we should aim to improve.

The governor’s two-year budget proposal cuts $25.2 million in education funding. It also raids another $14 million of casino revenues previously earmarked for education and requires already-strapped towns to fully fund teacher retirement – a move that would cripple many municipalities forcing deep cuts to educational programming and staffing. In addition, he suggests further burdening public schools by forcing districts to pay for remedial classes their graduates are required to take at our universities or community colleges. The governor also announced a simplistic A-to-F grading system of public schools that has the potential to be misleading and degrading to teachers and students in what he called “underperforming” districts.

Finally, the governor is demanding we lift the cap on the number of Maine charter schools (further siphoning funds from local schools) only one year after their introduction and with no indication of their proficiency. Charter schools do not necessarily provide better student outcomes. In fact, a 2009 Stanford University study showed that only 17 percent of charter schools provided a better education than traditional schools, with 37 percent providing a worse education. This is not a wise use of our tax dollars.

Rather than aiming our resources at unproven charter schools, dollars would be better invested in existing schools and in early childhood education, which has been shown to be an economic booster by bringing education to Maine’s youngest learners at an early age. It makes economic sense to identify possible learning disabilities and get our youth on the right track early – the Maine Chamber of Commerce, the Maine Development Foundation and businesses across this state agree this is critical to Maine’s economic future.

In Maine, nearly 20 percent of our children live in poverty. Half of our students receive subsidized school lunches, and 11,000 more children received food stamps last year than in 2011. We have children who live in circumstances that would challenge any of us to be successful. What message do we give our students when funding is stripped from local schools and punitive policies are instituted that diminish the work being done in their district? How do these policies demonstrate to students that their future matters to the state of Maine? They don’t.

Undercutting our public schools and teachers by slashing state funding is not the answer for our students. As chairman of the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee I will ensure each student in Maine has the best education possible. Maine’s future depends on it, and I will not settle for less.

Sen. Rebecca Millett is a Democrat who represents South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough.

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