As Maine Teachers of the Year, we are honored to serve as ambassadors for teachers throughout our state. We are proud to be teachers because we know that every teacher works hard to help kids succeed. Teaching is a noble profession and one where we can have a major impact on the future of our kids, communities and great state. In our roles as Maine Teachers of the Year, we regularly connect with teachers across Maine and hear about their successes and challenges in their classrooms.
We hear that Maine teachers are struggling because the state has consistently underfunded our schools. As a result, schools have had to cut teaching positions and programs for students. Administrators, school boards and communities value these positions and programs, but over the last eight years, they have been put in the untenable position of having to fund their schools, while also trying to ease the ever-increasing financial burden on local property owners.
In November, Maine voters have a chance to reverse this by passing Question 2. It will increase funding for our public schools with a 3 percent tax on annual income over $200,000. That money can only be spent on things that directly benefit Maine students.
In talking with teachers, it is evident that they are resourceful and resilient. They share, reuse and recycle materials. They write grants and shop at yard sales for classroom supplies and furniture. They spend money from their own pockets in an effort to ensure students have what they need.
In spite of these efforts, teachers continue to struggle to provide their students with the larger resources and programs necessary to be successful.
Nationally, a growing number of students are living in poverty, and Maine is no exception. Our disadvantaged students come to school with a unique set of needs that often interfere with their academic progress. Today, schools require the availability of a variety of services to meet their needs.
Research tells us we need more high-quality early-childhood, after-school and summer-school programs. Without additional state resources, the cost of doing this with our present school budgets is unrealistic because we will once again rely on property taxes to fund these critical programs. Property tax payers already are strapped trying to fund their schools at the present level.
Additionally, research confirms that the classroom teacher is the most influential school-related factor in building student achievement. Recent initiatives such as Common Core, proficiency-based education and practices to build teacher effectiveness will help to raise the quality of our teaching and will better prepare students for college and career paths. Teachers have the desire to learn new strategies to improve teaching and learning, but again this costs money. Additional state funding for our local schools will ensure that teachers have access to high-quality professional development that builds their capacity to raise levels of student achievement and aspirations.
Question 2 will provide funding for extended learning time, as well as wrap-around services for our students, including expanded mental health care. It also will restore funding for the lost educational opportunities. Additional funding will ease the cost of professional development for districts, which will ultimately benefit Maine students.
It is about giving every child a chance to succeed regardless of where they live. Wealthy community or poor community, rural or urban. We ask Maine voters to join us in giving opportunities to every child in Maine by voting yes on Question 2 in November. After all, this is what is in the best interest of Maine students.
Jennifer Dorman is the 2015 Maine Teacher of the Year. Talya Edlund is the 2016 Maine Teacher of the Year. Tamara Ranger is the 2017 Maine Teacher of the Year.