As I’ve watched and participated in the debate over the bond to repair our city’s four most run-down elementary schools, it’s become clear that one of the primary reasons that our schools have been allowed to degrade so badly is the way the state distributes school construction money.

The state provides roughly a quarter of all school reconstruction money, and the way the state chooses schools to fund is based on which school buildings are in the worst shape.

Essentially, the state incentivizes cities and towns to intentionally let their schools fall into disrepair. It’s a race to the bottom where the only way to get state money is to make sure you have the worst schools in the state.

Portland has been quite good at playing this game, as the state paid for the renovations at East End School, Ocean Avenue and Hall School. But in the meantime, generations of kids have received substandard education and countless middle-class families have fled the city to escape our decrepit schools.

It’s time for the state to change this formula. City governments like Portland’s shouldn’t be rewarded for neglecting our schools. I encourage Portland’s state legislative delegation to lead the way to end these perverse incentives before another generation of kids is lost.

Steven Biel