Former U.S. House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill famously said, “All politics is local.”
We are in the middle of a crucial election, with many issues on the national level. But it remains true that we as voters can do the most good and have the most influence with issues that are close to home.
That is why, as an educator and special education teacher for 15 years, I will vote “yes” on statewide Question 2 on Election Day. This ballot question simply proposes to raise money in a fair and equitable manner, by a surcharge of 3 percent on all Mainers (top 1 percent) who make over $200,000 per year after deductions.
If passed, the Stand Up for Students referendum will generate over $150 million a year specifically for public schools. The money cannot be used for administrative costs or overhead: It must go directly toward enhancing classroom instruction.
This is music to my ears. A recent report demonstrated how strong Maine schools are. Taking into account factors such as ACT scores and school safety, the personal finance website WalletHub has rated Maine’s schools the eighth best in the nation.
This is good, but not good enough. Imagine how excellent we could be if all schools throughout Maine, not just those with a strong property tax base, could have the resources to develop programs and services that they could only dream about before.
My educator colleagues are used to painful discussions, about what to fund and what to cut. Should we add another art teacher so all students can receive art instruction? Which is more important, physical education or music?
That is a tough one, with the obesity epidemic on the one hand and, on the other, the research showing a correlation between music instruction and improvement in math skills and logical thinking.
Did you know that some schools have a drama department while others struggle to maintain their library? I personally know educators who buy school supplies to the tune of $1,000 to $2,000 a year out of their own pocket.
As a special education teacher, I’ve seen a change in the needs of the student population. More students throughout Maine are entering school with serious mental health challenges, yet we often do not have the resources for additional social workers, personnel and training to address this growing need. Without the extra support staff, teachers are forced to spend more of their day filling this gap. This is unfair to the other students in their class.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not point out the significance of class size. In the younger grades, or in remedial classes, the importance of smaller classes cannot be overstated. Unfortunately, communities that have fewer resources often end up with larger classes. This is unfair to the students in these schools, especially the youngest children and students with special needs.
If Question 2 passes, decisions would need to be made on a district level as to how to use the additional resources in a way that takes into account the unique needs of the students living in the area.
One school may put the money toward improving technology or offering foreign-language instruction at earlier grade levels. A different school may seek to reduce class size or hire additional social workers.
However, no school should be forced to compromise quality of instruction by leaving unmet critical needs of the student population because of a lack of funding. This is discriminatory and does a disservice to the students in that community.
This November, Mainers have an opportunity to take a critical step toward alleviating these disparities and increasing the likelihood that all Maine children will thrive. By supporting Question 2, voters can make a positive difference affecting the lives of children in their own neighborhoods and towns.
One thing that should unite Mainers of all political stripes is the desire for excellent public schools. This should not be a partisan issue.
Maine is a great and generous state, and our children deserve the best education we can give them. Stand Up for Students (Question 2) provides a sensible and fair path toward that goal.
Please join me and vote “yes” on Question 2 on Election Day.