The state of Maine has been funding education since 1820. The state constitution requires it and various methods of funding have been employed over the years to meet this responsibility.
In 2004, voters got more specific and gave passage to a statewide referendum initiative mandating that the state pay 55 percent of essential public education costs. To date, that percentage has yet to be achieved and over the years it has hovered closer to 38 percent.
In 2019, the state increased its share to reach 52 percent, but a plan announced this week by the Mills administration aims to fully fund the state’s share for the first time in 17 years. Mills proposes to add $187 million in education funds to the budget to meet this obligation while also providing additional resources for the state’s school revolving renovation fund as well as for higher education.
State funding provides equity by ensuring that the needed resources are available to fund education regardless of a community’s economic standing. As full funding is realized, not all schools should expect to see a windfall. The 55 percent number represents the overall cost of education statewide and is not a mandate that each school be compensated for 55 percent of its costs. And the money that each school receives is further determined by a complicated formula outlined in the state law.
For school systems such as the Mount Desert Island Regional School System, the increased funding will have little effect. Designated as minimum receiver schools, those in the system receive less due to the overall wealth of their communities. But, for other school systems across the state, it is likely to have a more significant impact.
While we support the state finally meeting its obligation set fourth almost two decades ago, providing more money for schools is only the first step in increasing the quality of education across the state. More than money, the state needs to create and implement 21st century curriculum that readies students for their life beyond graduation. It also needs to consider putting additional funds aside to help the students who fell behind this pandemic year through no fault of their own.
As a state, there is no better return on investment than the education of our children. Let’s make sure to give them the quality of education they deserve.