TOPSHAM — While having the state pay 55 percent of public pre-K-12 education costs and ensuring a top-notch education for all Maine students should remain our goals, Question 2 would not help us achieve them. A more effective approach would be to focus our attention and funding on high-quality programs, economically disadvantaged students and school units that are struggling to meet their needs.

The proponents of Question 2 are touting the notion that it will ensure equity in education and ensure that all students, regardless of ZIP code, have an equal chance to succeed. A recent blog post by proponents of Question 2 says: “On a per student basis, it is the towns that have the least capacity (i.e., low property valuations) to absorb the state’s education cost shift that stand to gain the most.”

The notion that economically disadvantaged students in towns with low property values will benefit the most from Question 2 is blatantly false. There is nothing in the legislation that ensures any enhanced support for disadvantaged students. In fact, units and towns with low property values would benefit the least.

That’s right. The legislation behind the question will result in just the opposite. Communities with the least capacity would receive the least and would have little chance to ensure equity of opportunity for all students. I will provide two examples to illustrate this stark and inequitable result.

Here is the impact predicted by the proponents. Cape Elizabeth would gain $2,509,091, or a 49 percent increase in state funding. That would amount to $1,536 per student in a town where 5.4 percent of students have been identified as economically disadvantaged (defined in Maine as students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch).

Note that Cape Elizabeth already spends $4,793,748 over the amount needed to provide mandatory essential programs and services – the costs toward which the state is supposed to pay 55 percent.

By contrast, Regional School Unit 29 in the Houlton area would gain $771,000, or an 8 percent increase in state funding. That would amount to $609 per student in a district where 66.8 percent of students have been identified as economically disadvantaged. And RSU 29 spends $865,775 below essential programs and services costs.

In fact, the ZIP code would still matter. Question 2 would exacerbate the inequities that are currently not serving disadvantaged students across Maine. There are many, many other examples of this inequity.

Another fallacious point that the proponents make is that only about half of the units that won’t receive any increase at all operate schools. There are, in fact, 56 schools, with 1,032 teaching staff and over 10,000 students, in units that will not receive any funding increase.

Some of those units have a disadvantaged population as high as 80 percent. It doesn’t seem reasonable or fair to write off those students, teachers and school units as not important as we look for ways to improve education equity for all Maine students.

And lastly, Question 2 supporters claim that Maine’s school funding formula is one of the most equitable in the country. That determination was made over five years ago, before some Maine schools began to spend collectively more and more over the amount it takes to provide essential programs and services – a total of $250 million over EPS in fiscal 2015-16. Meanwhile, many units, like RSU 29, have not been able to cover even the amount defined by EPS.

Getting it right requires hard work and support by the Legislature, the State Board of Education, the Maine School Management Association, the Maine Education Association, Educate Maine and all who aspire to achieve a strong pre-K through 12 education for all students. What appears to be a simple ballot question masks a very complex situation that needs thorough deliberation and careful consideration to equitably support students..

Question 2 is flawed and will not achieve the outcomes the proponents promise. The campaign on Question 2 has raised awareness of the growing inequities and challenges in Maine’s education funding model.

Let’s seize this moment to defeat Question 2 and ask our leaders to go to work to update our education funding model. We can, and must, do better to create an equitable, high-quality educational opportunity for all Maine students.

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