Republicans fully support the principle enshrined in the Maine Constitution that education is “essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people” and it is the Legislature’s responsibility to ensure that right for every Maine student. In fact, over the past two years, we have agreed to spend more than $2 billion on K-12 public education.

Throughout the current budget negotiations, we must recognize that money alone cannot ensure that public education is delivered in an efficient, effective and accountable manner.

As enrollment in our public schools declines and costs steadily climb, Republicans are working to adapt our fragmented public education system. We must provide assurance to Mainers that taxpayer money invested in education is targeted to truly benefit Maine students.

Recent events suggest that Democrats want to grow state spending by nearly 12 percent over the last budget, nearly three times the rate of personal income growth in Maine households. Maine families won’t be able to absorb such irresponsible increases in taxes and government spending. Democrats say they want to dramatically increase funding to education but they also want to increase spending in virtually every other aspect of state government. They claim that increased state spending for education will result in property tax relief, while also proposing new programs and mandates whose costs far surpass any new resources.

There is not an endless supply of taxpayer-earned money available for Democrats to use to grow government. If we put more resources towards education, we must do so responsibly, and our spending must reflect our priorities.

Republicans stand willing to discuss the appropriate funding level for our schools, but it is inappropriate for Democrats to hold Maine’s economy and business climate hostage by demanding that we keep our 10.15 percent top marginal income tax rate second highest in the nation. Such a demand is particularly irresponsible considering the promised revenue increases from the tax hike have not materialized. In fact, the state’s revenue forecasting committee recently reduced its projections for future income tax collections, and it is only going to get worse. This is in stark contrast to what we have observed when Republicans have lowered income taxes and the state has seen growth in the Maine economy and accompanying revenue increases.

Republicans believe that any amount we put into the budget for education must be spent efficiently and ensure accountability to Maine parents and taxpayers. We cannot create mandates that balloon the cost of education year after year. Therefore, we are proposing a blueprint that outlines our priorities for state support of public education.

We must reshape Maine’s education overhead and infrastructure to efficiently and effectively serve our declining student population. Our school infrastructure was created for an enrollment of 250,000 students. Today, our student population is below 180,000 and dropping. Republicans have proposed to provide incentives for regional cooperation. Republicans have also put forward proposals for statewide and multi-district teacher contracts. We need to ensure that our resources are directed where they are most effective: inside the classroom. Democrats continue to stand in the way of reforms that could achieve common goals.

Republicans believe that our public education system must promote access, quality and options. Every Maine student must have access to a quality education and talented educators, no matter their zip code. We must empower parents to make decisions about the best educational environment for their children.

Investments in education must provide students with college and career skills. We support starting career and technical education programs in middle school, investing in new equipment, and increasing reimbursement rates to Maine’s community colleges and universities for high school students enrolled in their courses. We support reasonable and responsible increases in funding to Maine’s public higher education institutions, ensuring that there are affordable college programs preparing our future workforce.

We recognize that rising costs for special education are driving increases in spending at the state and local level. We stand ready to address the rising cost of special education while increasing access to services.

Investments in public education must serve students in disadvantaged situations. It is our belief that with greater investment, outcomes must improve for all Maine students.

Improving state support for education in Maine is not a partisan issue and it is not going to be accomplished simply by throwing more money at the problem. We must work together to reshape and improve Maine’s fragmented education system so that we can afford to fund it at the appropriate level.

Ken Fredette, R-Newport, is House minority leader.