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Governor’s Address: Money cannot solve our problems with Maine’s education system

Money alone cannot solve our problems, we need change.

Dear Maine Taxpayer,

Too much money can hide a lot of problems. Well, we spend more and more money every year on education, but our student performance remains stagnant. That’s a problem.

Instead of blindly throwing more money at public education, we need to ask why this problem has been allowed to go on for so long.

Just because the status quo is something that has been done for years doesn’t mean it’s the right way to do it, and we can’t defend it any longer.

For decades, Maine politicians have increased education funding despite massive declines in the number of students in our schools. We are educating far fewer kids, but paying much more to do it. Why?

To chase the mythical 55 percent – a number that can never actually be reached? To line the pockets of superintendents who are making six figures? To pay for bloated administrative costs and inefficient programs that deliver inadequate results? This just doesn’t make sense.

We already spend a lot of taxpayer money on education. Now we must insist that it actually go into the classroom to directly benefit students and teachers.

Liberals are demanding hundreds of millions of dollars more be spent on education. They want to grow the state budget by over 12 percent. A 12 percent increase is nearly three times the rate of personal income growth in Maine households. Try telling your boss to pay you 12 percent more, even though you won’t improve your performance or take on more responsibility.

Taxpayers already spend more than $2 billion per year on education, yet we have some of the lowest paid teachers in New England and in the nation.

The Maine Education Association and its union bosses refuse to support a statewide teachers’ contract that would increase pay for your child’s teacher. I invited them to the table to help write the plan for a statewide teacher contract, but they said they’d rather see teachers make less money than to work with my administration. That is not serving Maine teachers and it is not serving Maine students.

Meanwhile, the superintendents’ association is in denial that we have too many superintendents, despite the fact that Maine school districts pay much more than the national average on administrative costs, driven by superintendent salaries and redundant central office functions.

Some districts have started working together to reduce costs and improve programs, but they are only nibbling at the edges. There is so much more that we can do!

If we want to direct more money into the classroom, we must change our way of thinking. We can redesign the system to lower administrative costs and the cost of programs such as special education by reducing the number of superintendents and building scale.

We can offer incentives to school districts willing to share programs and resources. And we can provide better wages for our teachers.

Every year, more than $2.3 billion is spent on Maine’s education system. That’s a lot of money. If liberals are not committed to ensuring every one of those taxpayer dollars is directed into the classroom, you need to ask them why.

I suspect they won’t be able to give you a good answer, and that’s a problem.

Thank You,

Paul R. LePage

Governor

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