In light of the series of teacher protests over the past year in states like Colorado, Nevada and West Virginia, it’s important not to only share headlines on Facebook and talk about it over coffee, but take the conversation one step further to see what could be at the heart of how things got so bad. One very significant factor is the disparity in school funding from community to community, even within the same state. Here in Maine, teachers and parents in School Administrative District (SAD) 75, which includes the towns of Topsham, Harpswell, Bowdoin and Bowdoinham, are fervently negotiating with the school board for salaries closer to those in the wealthier districts surrounding them. The teachers argue that this difference ranges from $10,600 to as much as $20,000 for experienced educators. The root of this problem lies in, as so many things do, how many members of a community are willing or able to pay in taxes.
Individuals are often very willing to support teachers with their words on social media, but when it comes time to open up their wallets and act on these values, things get understandably tricky. The real solution to this issue isn’t to increase taxes in districts, but to distribute state and federal funding to support the school districts that are struggling. This isn’t nearly as easy as it sounds, even when governments do agree to increase education spending. In the ‘90s, the Maine Board of Education decided to change the way they funded schools; instead of accounting for an equal cost for all students, the board decided to spend more money on poor students than on wealthy students. There are problems with the implementation of this style of funding, in that it is actually based on property values in school systems, creating problems in coastal communities that still have a high impoverished population.
With that said, this style of funding represents the direction in which the country should be looking to better education. The Bangor Daily News cited a 2015 study that showed increased spending on low-income students has been found to increase graduation rates, reduce class sizes and increase teacher salaries. The solution has always been present in the American consciousness, it’s just been pushed off to the side for the sake of convenience. It has to be front and center now, or rather, yesterday. The difference between the highest starting salary and the lowest between Maine school districts is over $13,000; it doesn’t take a master’s degree to figure out which district is able to hire and keep the stronger instructors.
In the 2017 fiscal year, 3 percent of tax dollars collected by the federal government was spent on education. It’s up to Americans as to whether or not they want that percentage to reflect their impassioned outcries on Twitter for better education. There is no free lunch, but if education is to improve it can’t just be about one’s own community. Citizens have to think about the state taxes and the federal taxes that they pay and where they are going. If Americans are going to tout equality then they better vote accordingly.