Maine’s school funding formula has always shortchanged a certain kind of school district, leaving them without the resources to provide the same level of education as more affluent areas.

The problems with the formula have only worsened in recent years as property values across the state have skyrocketed. Now the formula’s flaws could derail efforts to help students rebound from everything that was lost when schools were disrupted during the pandemic.

Legislators have a chance this session to make the funding formula more fair, and they should. Otherwise, Maine will continue to fall short of its goal of providing the same, best-possible education to every student across the state, without exception.

The state now funds 55% of the total statewide cost of what it deems the essential programs and services every school district must offer.

But that money isn’t distributed evenly. Districts receive a share based on the school funding formula, which makes its determination based largely on a district’s student enrollment and overall property values.

In a lot of cases, the formula gets things right. Districts with lower overall property values tend to be poorer, and thus need more state help to provide a complete education, while richer communities can afford to raise more school funding on their own through property taxes.


The problem comes when property values skyrocket in places that are otherwise not so well off. To the school funding formula, these communities look rich because a relative few properties, typically along the water, have skyrocketed in value, even though most residents in town still struggle to get by.

Under the formula, you have communities like Greenville and Jonesport-Beals, which have high property values but low median incomes, receiving roughly the same amount of state education aid as Cape Elizabeth and York, communities with high property values but also much higher incomes.

Faced with low levels of state funding, wealthier communities can more easily raise money through property taxes, ensuring that their students get every opportunity a K-12 school in Maine can provide.

Meanwhile, less affluent communities must choose whether to raise property taxes, further burdening residents who cannot afford to pay, or cut programs and services, and hurt students who on average face more challenges than their counterparts in affluent areas.

The problems with the funding formula are most severe in districts along the coast and around lakes. But as property values have taken off in Maine over the last few years, and the incomes of the majority of residents has failed to keep up, those problems have spread far and wide.

Ultimately, the result is that per pupil spending — the amount spent to educate each student — varies widely across the state. Districts that can afford to spend a lot on education do, while those who can’t afford it, don’t.


There’s a reason that any list of high-performing schools in Maine is also a list of communities with low poverty and high incomes.

It means that the education provided to a student in Maine depends a great deal on where that student lives.

It means that, after the disruption of the pandemic, wealthier school districts will have more resources with which to help their students get back on track, while poor districts will struggle to do the same for their students.

And the gap between those groups will grow wider.

Changing the school formula would help. Legislators earlier this month held hearings on a variety of bills related to the funding formula, including one that would add median income as a major factor and another that would provide extra funding on top of the formula to schools where incomes are below the state average.

Either approach would get more state funding to where it’s needed most.

With everything schools and their students are facing today, it cannot happen soon enough.


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