Op-Ed by Paul R. LePage, Governor of Maine
We all want the best education for our children. But to improve education, we must first learn what we are getting for the $2 billion-plus that Mainers spend on pre-K through 12 education.
The Maine Education Association, funded by the out-of-state national teacher’s union, has put a disingenuous initiative on the ballot in November. They claim it will “Stand up for Students,” but in reality it will extort more taxes from Maine families and businesses without improving education at all. In fact, as Mainers have steadily increased funding of public education, our students’ performance has remained flat.
We must take a hard look at academic standards and accountability within our education system. Taking more money from successful people and throwing it at education will not improve academic standards or hold underperforming teachers accountable.
Everyone supports children, and everyone supports funding for education. The MEA claims the state does not fund 55 percent of local school costs, but they distort the true picture.
With a total education budget of more than $2 billion, it is unconscionable that teachers and students have to spend their own money to buy notebooks, pens and pencils. Question 2 will not solve that problem. This question will ensure school districts that already receive the most money from the state—wealthy places like Portland, Falmouth, Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough—will receive millions. These communities already pay teachers some of the highest salaries in the state. Meanwhile, towns like Blue Hill, Machiasport and Greenville will get nothing.
Even worse, student enrollment has decreased by 25,000 students over the past two decades, despite the fact that pre-kindergarten has been added to public school enrollment. Just in the last decade, the number of students has declined by 13 percent—but spending has increased by 18 percent. While spending continues to increase, school performance remains stagnant. Mainers deserve to know why their local school budgets are going up every year, but academic results are not getting better. The union bosses at MEA cannot answer that question. They just want more money. They tug on parents’ heartstrings and say, “It’s for the children.”
Question 2 asks you to add a 3 percent tax on Maine’s family households and small businesses. Your favorite doctor, dentist, small restaurant or corner store would get slapped with a 10.15% income tax. They would get punished with the second-highest top income tax rate in the United States. These are the Mainers who already contribute the most revenue to our economy and our tax base. Driving their income tax rate over 10 percent would drive them and their tax revenue out of the state—leaving even less revenue for schools.
Question 2 would be devastating to our efforts to attract new companies to Maine and would hinder the ability of our existing businesses to hire additional employees. In fact, small businesses will be forced to pay a higher tax rate than big corporations. Experts estimate Question 2 would cost approximately 4,000 private-sector jobs. By voting for Question 2, you could put your neighbor—or yourself—out of work.
We’ve worked hard to reduce the income tax, but the Maine Education Association is taking us backwards. Instead of punishing successful Mainers, they should focus to make the education system more efficient and more effective.
I invited the MEA’s union boss to meet with me to discuss how we can improve education in the State of Maine, and she initially accepted my invitation. Then she canceled, saying she was too busy engaging in politics; she suggested we could talk later—after the election. Supporting professional development and investing in our teachers should be a priority, but the MEA would rather play politics than work to benefit our students and teachers.
The MEA should be considering how to combine school districts or share services. Instead of paying for a top-heavy system of administrators, they should be raising pay for our teachers and putting more money into the classroom.
Don’t be fooled, folks. The Maine Education Association has no desire to reform education. They don’t want better academic results, and they certainly don’t care about lowering costs for taxpayers. Their sole purpose is to confiscate union dues from teachers’ paychecks to bankroll political campaigns and send more socialists to Augusta.
So remember, when MEA says they want to tax you more, it’s not for the children—it’s for the union bosses.