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Will increased funding actually improve school performance?

Through the Stand Up for Students ballot initiative, Maine has a chance on Election Day to help our less affluent school districts provide a quality education to their students.

As the Picus Report, funded by our Legislature in 2013 to the tune of $450,000 found, Maine needs to “…increase funding for public schools by $260 million per year to pay for programs.” We lag most of the rest of the nation in our state’s funding of schools.

State funding negligence has meant that in recent years many less affluent districts have struggled to make ends meet. They have cut staffing as well as programs in order to save money, resulting in bigger class sizes, fewer ed techs to support students, fewer arts and language programs, fewer field trips, tiny supply budgets. Teachers in these districts are well-acquainted with absolute spending freezes – including for professional development – announced by superintendents early in the school year.

Despite claims to the contrary, all of these reductions and cuts do indeed greatly impact the quality of education an individual student receives. To state the obvious – teachers who are stressed by caseloads too large for one person, by too little time in the day to prepare for classes, by too many hours at night spent preparing for the next day rather than attending to personal needs or their own families, by too little professional development that they find relevant to their work, by unrealistic expectations given their working conditions – cannot do their best work.

From the outside it is easy to declare that money can’t solve our schools’ problems, that “…The kind of things that do matter are the intellectual culture between the staff and students within a school. What matters is teachers setting high standards and expectations.” What Legislators and policy makers need to understand is that while most teachers are a dedicated, very hard-working group of people, we are only human, and we need support to do our work well.

The State needs to make it possible for less affluent districts to provide the conditions that will allow teachers to create the outstanding learning environments students deserve. Increased state funding as requested by the public in 2004 and counseled by the Picus Report would allow districts to provide those conditions. Does funding guarantee excellence? No, of course not, but it certainly helps. This is why wealthier towns have always spent more on their schools. They know that it takes money to provide reasonable class sizes for teachers, support for struggling students, arts and language and G/T programs, and enough supplies for teachers to innovate.

Stand Up for Students includes provisions that the increased funding garnered from taxes to our state’s wealthiest citizens go to students, rather than bureaucracy and administration. When the measure passes it will be up to school boards and superintendents to make sure funding increases are spent wisely to help our least affluent schools meet the needs of their students.

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