All children should have the opportunity to succeed in this increasingly complex and global world. For centuries, America has offered itself as a land of opportunity.”

Our democratic nature fosters the belief that everyone deserves the chance to make a better life. The ideals of equity, therefore, should be evident in our system of education. Sadly, they are not.

The success of our children should not depend on where in Maine they happen to live. To ensure equity of opportunity across the state, I believe school funding must come primarily from the widest tax base available, state government. The scattered patterns of economic development in Maine means local property taxes create variable funding levels.

My students at Richmond High School have talked about the opportunities available at other schools. They have the perception that in some parts of the state, parents can and do invest more of their tax money into the school system than their own community is capable of doing.

The recent release of the governor’s school performance report card, while flawed, served to further the notion that the towns that can afford to, have good schools, and vice-versa.

Today, educational reforms from the federal government are implemented at the state level, eroding our cherished local control.

Despite this shift, local taxes still shouldered 47.2 percent of Maine’s education funding in 2009-10, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The time has come for a model that relies on state funding of education, while still giving school districts the local control to make spending decisions. Two brief examples will help frame the situation in Maine.

It may seem odd to look to the country of Finland, but this country of 5.4 million (compared with Maine’s 1.3 million) has pulled off a miraculous turnaround in the past decades.

Researcher Pasi Sahlberg described it as “a model of a modern, publicly financed education system with widespread equity, good quality, large participation — all of this at reasonable cost.” A focus on equity helped erase variations in student achievement tied to socioeconomic factors.

In the 1990s, nearby Vermont had a funding model deemed unconstitutional, but it struggled through a reform process to craft a system that has addressed the larger issues of equity. A recent report found “virtually no relationship between wealth and education spending levels.”

There is a long line of complaints about Maine’s Essential Programs and Services model, which attempts to determine an “adequate” level of funding for education. EPS has the right idea, but its target needs to be raised to the level of top quality.

What is top quality? It is exactly what everyone is talking about, what my students were asking about. It is the schools that offer the best educational experience, the best career and college preparation, and the best support for all students, whether it is in gifted and talented, special education services, or general education.

Top quality is the model we have been pointed to by the report card; Gov. Paul LePage’s “A” schools, such as Yarmouth and Cape Elizabeth.

This plan will require a broadening of the state tax base, but it must be paired with local property tax relief. A shift in the source of funding is required, but not a larger pool of money. The wider tax base at the state level spreads out the ability to pay, and gives relief to local property tax rates.

I guarantee that the parents of Richmond and Masardis, Baileyville and Andover all want their children to get the same education and opportunities as children in more prosperous areas of the state. The current push for 55 percent state contribution to EPS is a target too low to create real equity.

Intelligence and ability are not predetermined by geography. Our educational funding model must recognize this fact to ensure that all Maine children have equal opportunities for success.

Dave Gagne is a resident of Freeport, a social studies teacher at Richmond High School, and a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine.

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