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ABC's of Effective Education

By Lois Kilby-Chesley, President MEA

The Governor proposed his version of ABC’s including A for Accountability, B for Best Practices, and C for Choice.  Educators have always been in support of accountability for our work and that of our colleagues.  We have always implemented best practices to the extent resources would allow.  To imply otherwise is an insult to our profession and an affront to every educator.

I propose another ABC triad that will benefit our students’ lives.

A is for Adequate Appropriations

The state has yet to meet the requirement of 55% funding to public education.  In 2004 we voted on and approved Ballot Question 1 which was meant to raise the state’s share of education funding from 50% to 55%.  In reality the state has never reached the 55% level in eight years.  It is well documented that school districts continued to pay more than their share of 45% during the interim. 

The gains and losses of state funding can help or hurt a school in its efforts to improve.  The impact on the success or failure of schools that will be affected by cuts this year remains to be seen.  What we do know is that many schools will be expected to produce higher results with less money.

As educators, we know that it takes money to run schools and even more money to improve them as we work to meet the needs of every child.  Implementing “take backs” of programs for our students will further widen the gap between schools that have and schools that do not. Cuts to art education, to programs for gifted and talented students, or for sports are often made for financial reasons.  But the losers are our students.  Some districts are simply less able to raise local property taxes, and therefore it is necessary to limit student opportunity, while others vastly outspend their neighboring districts.  These differences result in greater or less opportunity for students, increasing the chasm between schools and regions in Maine.

B is for Beneficial Bipartisanship

Two sides working together in commission for the good of public education would be beneficial to all students in Maine.  Rather than working at odds with educators all entities must be working together for our students, and hand-in–hand with educators.  We know that honest discussion and debate is important as we work to improve Maine’s schools for our students.  But we also know that the current failure of our two-party system to work together is fracturing public education.  It is time that our political leaders put down their guns and transcend political marksmanship.   Education is not a target at which to train one’s scope.  Rather education is the target at which we should be aiming our skills and best practice while we are reforming a strong, successful, public educational system in Maine.

C is for Caring for Our Children

Research indicates that Maine lags behind the other New England states in meeting the needs of our children.

  • Child well-being:  New Hampshire (1), Massachusetts (2), Vermont (3), Connecticut (7), Maine (13), and Rhode Island (25))
  • Education: Massachusetts (1), Vermont (3), New Hampshire (4), Connecticut (5), Rhode Island (20), and Maine (23).
  • Children in poverty:  New Hampshire (10%), Connecticut (13%), Vermont (17%), Maine (18%), and Rhode Island (19%).
  • Children living in households that were food insecure at some point during the year:  13% in New Hampshire, 16% in Massachusetts, 18% in Connecticut, and 21% in Vermont and Maine 26%.

We know repeated cuts to services that support our families devastate the success of our students.  We must continue to support health coverage for those at risk, early childhood opportunities, and child nutrition services.  Some of the upcoming cuts that will affect our students this year include:

MaineCare/Medicare cuts will affect nearly 15,000 Maine families with children.

Cuts of $2 million will reduce Head Start, the program providing early care and education, health, nutrition and family supports to children.

Another $2 million of child care subsidies which helps parents with low income cover the cost of child care so they can work will be cut.

$2.6 million cut from the Home Visiting Program that focuses on substance abuse and the health and safety of children in abusive situations.

As educators we see the day to day effects of these cuts.  We do all we can at school to provide for the needs of our students. But poverty negatively impacts school success, school achievement, and social-emotional functioning.  Parenting skills and early life conditions play a major role how well a child will do in school.  A parent’s education level affects early acquisition of basic skills.  Health issues for those without health care increase school absence and widen the learning gap.  Children in poverty move more often and have a higher risk of dropping out of school.  Often schools in low-income areas have a harder time recruiting highly qualified teachers, have facilities in more need of repair, and have a harder time involving parents in students’ education.  Like it or not, research shows that family income has become a strong predictor of school success. 

When our Governor talks of improving Maine’s schools, he needs to consider all aspects of a child’s life.  When we actually care about our children the financial costs increase but the human cost of saving a child from a cycle of poverty and despair is well worth the dollars.  Having been saved himself, he, of all people, should recognize this.

Legislative Action

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MEA Benefits Trust

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