Maine kids and teachers lobby legislators on school funding gap

Maine kids and teachers lobby legislators on school funding gap

Some Maine students and teachers spent part of their February break in Augusta this year, trading the hallways of local schools for the halls of the State House on Thursday in an attempt to convince legislators to prioritize K-12 education and close a looming school funding gap.

“For the sake of my students and my own two children we need lawmakers to approve a plan that will include more funding for this year so schools across the state aren’t forced to once again make drastic cuts or increase property taxes, again,” said Amanda Cooper, a teacher in Gorham. “It is also crucial that lawmakers understand the importance of fixing the education funding issue this state has, and supporting the Stand up for Students ballot initiative is a first step in the right direction to providing the proper funding for our schools.”

Cooper and the other teachers and students urged support for an amended version of Governor LePage’s tax conformity package, which removes a controversial corporate tax break and includes an additional $23 million for school funding, the amount needed to make up a projected shortfall based on Maine Department of Education school district subsidy calculations for 2016-2017.

The amateur lobbyists also voiced support for the Stand up for Students ballot initiative, petitions for which are currently being reviewed by the Secretary of State’s Office. If 61,123 signatures are found valid it will go before the legislature before likely being put before voters during the November General Election. The initiative is projected to raise $157 million for K-12 education by levying a new 3% surcharge on wealthy Mainers on income in excess of $200,000 a year.

“I wanted to come to Augusta because school is really important to me and I feel like the people who make decisions about my education should know what my school is really like. We need new text books, mine are literally falling apart! I was talking to someone from the 1960’s and they want their textbooks back…. and I want them to take them!” said Malachai Willey, a 7th grader from Caribou who participated in the lobby day. “We need more money for our classrooms because we are the future generation. If we don’t have the proper tools or education to learn we will be held back from our potential. I don’t think I’m asking for a lot—I just want to have books that aren’t ripped, more opportunities in art and music and smaller classes.”

Photo: still from WGME coverage.

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