Stand up for education, vote down LePage budget

By Victoria Kornfield, Special to the BDN
Posted May 16, 2013, at 12:32 p.m.

As a retired educator and a parent, I know how important it is to provide children with high-quality education. Mainers agree that education is vital to our future, and our state budget must reflect our shared value.

Investment in our schools benefits students, parents and our communities. My experience at Bangor High School has allowed me to see the innovative things public schools can do for a child.

Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed budget, however, would hurt Maine schools, students and communities. He would cut nearly $40 million of funding at a time when we should be supporting our schools so they can be the best learning environments possible for Maine children. Maine schools would end up with fewer teachers, larger classes and diminished educational programs under the governor’s budget.

Bangor stands to lose nearly $374,000 in education funding over a two-year period. City officials and school administrators will be tasked with finding ways to close the financial gap.

Local communities would have to shoulder new costs under the governor’s proposal. The state is responsible for the costs of teacher retirement, but the governor wants to pass those costs along to municipalities. Communities would have to come up with millions of dollars to cover this new expense. This is the same as the federal government telling the states that they have to start paying 50 percent of Social Security for their citizens.

The governor’s education plan siphons money from our public schools. He is choosing to ignore the hard work and dedication of public school teachers to support charter schools run by for-profit companies. As an individual with strong roots in the community, I think there’s something disconcerting about allowing the decisions about a child’s education to be made by a CEO who may be motivated by the bottom line and shareholder demands.

The governor continues to find ways to keep money from going to our public schools. He is pushing for a school voucher program, the same type of program that has continuously failed in the Legislature. This plan would require taxpayers to pay for any school a student chooses, including a private school.

The governor would like you to think there’s plenty of fat to cut from municipal and school budgets. This is simply not the case. Towns and schools cannot just absorb these kinds of cuts.

With the bulk of a municipality’s budget going toward education and most of the remainder going toward public safety and public works, there’s not much to cut. But without program cuts, the only recourse available is to raise the property taxes of already-strapped local taxpayers.

To further complicate financial matters, the governor’s proposed budget amounts to a $425 million tax shift to communities and property taxpayers. This tax shift comes in the form of the suspension of the revenue-sharing system between the state and municipalities, cuts to excise tax revenues for local roads and the elimination of important property-tax reduction measure.

We deserve a fair and well-thought-out budget, not one that is balanced at the expense of children, working families and the middle class.

Ask any school teacher or parent, and they will tell you the importance of a quality education. Maine’s public schools and teachers can create a life-changing learning environment for our children. The education students receive in our public schools can put them on a path toward a promising and bright future but only if we properly fund education.

There is no greater investment than the one we make in our children and education. It’s time for the state to solve its fiscal challenges without further burdening our schools. Let’s stand up for education.

Rep. Victoria Kornfield, D-Bangor, is a retired educator who taught at Bangor High School for 30 years. She represents part of Bangor, is serving her first term in the Legislature and is on the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/05/16/opinion/contributors/stand-up-for-education-vote-down-lepage-budget/ printed on July 30, 2014