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

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.”

Gov. Paul LePage addresses the audience during a town hall meeting Sept. 29, 2015, at Bucksport Middle School. (Ashley L. Conti | BDN)

Gov. Paul LePage addresses the audience during a town hall meeting Sept. 29, 2015, at Bucksport Middle School. (Ashley L. Conti | BDN)

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.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.