This blog post written by Claire Berkowitz, executive director of MCA and originally appeared in the Portland Press Herald on July 15, 2016. Click here to read the original OpEd.
We all want our children to grow up and become the confident, capable and caring adults of tomorrow, who can lead Maine into a prosperous future. This starts with improving their education today.
High-quality education plays an important role in preparing young Mainers for the workforce, secondary education and the challenges that come along with adulthood. When children have access to a top-rate education, we provide them with the opportunity to reach their full potential. As adults, they will lead our communities, state and nation forward as decision-makers, educators and business owners.
It is clear that the success of our state depends on the success of our children, which is why the Maine Children’s Alliance is supporting Question 2, the Stand Up for Students initiative. This citizens’ ballot initiative will establish a fund to advance public education from kindergarten to 12th grade, fulfilling Maine’s budget promises to schools. An investment in the education of our children is an investment that truly pays off.
As the Maine data provider for the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count project, we see concrete opportunities to improve the education of Maine children.
According to the 2016 Kids Count Data Book, only 36 percent of Maine fourth-graders are proficient in reading and only 35 percent of Maine eighth-graders are proficient in math. While these numbers are slightly above the national average, they are still concerning and signal areas needing significant improvement.
By the time children reach the fourth grade, reading becomes a critical tool to learning other important subjects: Children no longer learn to read but read to learn. If only 1 in 3 children is reading proficiently, this means the other two-thirds are likely to struggle not just in reading but also in all subjects. In looking at the data, it is clear that there are opportunities to improve these numbers by investing more in their learning.
Each year the state aims to contribute 55 percent to public education funding, as written in state law, and each year, Maine falls short. This past year, the state contributed only about 47 percent. We need to do better for our kids, and with Stand Up for Students, we can.
While all Maine school administrative units suffer when the state does not contribute its share of school funding, these shortfalls especially affect communities that already face severe economic hardships. Our children’s future should not be determined by their ZIP code. Many schools and communities are struggling with economic challenges throughout the state, and we have the power to make it a little easier for these schools to do their job.
We need to ask ourselves an important question: How can we expect teachers to teach and teach well if we do not give them the resources, support and tools to lead our students down a path to success? Many are already doing an incredible job with what they have, finding creative solutions to budget cuts and funding challenges.
Imagine what could be possible if we just invested a little more.
The Stand Up for Students ballot initiative is our chance to begin investing in Maine’s future and create the Maine we want our children to thrive in, grandchildren to grow up in and generations to thank us for later. Best of all, we can see results now. When our kids do well in school, they are more likely to graduate on time, earn higher wages and less likely to engage in risky behaviors. This is a win for our parents, communities and law enforcement officials.
At the Maine Children’s Alliance, we see this ballot initiative as a step in the right direction. While direct learning is imperative to student success, we would also like to see state funding increase for cost-effective, high-quality early education programs such as public preschool to create a better education for Maine children.
Come November, citizens throughout Maine can join the Maine Children’s Alliance and many other organizations to support Question 2, something we can all value and agree on: An investment in Maine kids is an investment in Maine’s future.