Construction is underway on a $75 million elementary school in Skowhegan that will transform education for the district’s youngest students. Sam Hight, chairman of the committee raising the local share of funding for school, told the Morning Sentinel that support for the project revealed a lot about the community’s priorities.

“There is no power of change greater than a community discovering what it cares about,” he said.

Communities up and down the state should pay attention. While there’s no doubt Maine’s K-12 schools are supported by Maine residents, it’s also true that, in a lot of cases, that support is simply not enough. Not given the ever-growing responsibilities we heap on our schools, and the barriers to attendance and learning faced by many kids.

Not if we want to make sure that every kid in Maine, regardless of where they live or what challenges they face, receives the education they deserve.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a lot of good going on in Maine schools. Mainers should be proud of how our public schools overcome enormous challenges to teach students on a daily basis and give them a safe and hopeful place in which to learn. They should recognize the dedication that educators and support staff give both to their schools and to their students.

That dedication is constant and robust even though pay for those positions is relatively low, and the stress and responsibility very high. That combination is driving good people from the profession, or forcing them to take second jobs. This dynamic is particularly acute in less affluent school districts that can’t afford to pay higher salaries, increasing the divide between schools in rich communities and those in poorer ones.


Maine has made progress in recent years, with the state now covering 55% of statewide K-12 education costs, leaving less for local taxes to pay, taking pressure off communities without a lot of resources. The state now pays for free school lunch for all students as well, an enormous help to school districts and their students. The floor for teacher salaries is now $40,000, following a 2019 law, still the lowest in New England but an improvement on where it was.

In recent years, however, the challenges have been building faster than ever. Even before the pandemic, schools were struggling to deal with the fallout from a confounding mental health crisis affecting a lot of young people, and the addiction crisis facing many of their families. Problems like these, as well as unemployment and trouble accessing transportation or child care, were causing kids to miss school at high rates. School buildings were also showing their age, and becoming an impediment to teaching.

Now we can add COVID-19-era learning loss to the mix, with many students lagging behind.

Our students are forced to live in fear of shootings, too, in a way that no other kids across the world have to. LGBTQ students, and their friends and families, face a coordinated effort to marginalize them from their schools and communities, all part of an insidious national campaign to reduce support for public schools.

The influx of asylum seekers who need help learning English has also created new challenges for some districts.

Every time one of these problems worsens, it broadens the inequities between schools. Affluent communities just aren’t as affected. When they are, those communities have the resources to respond.


Maine does a lot for its schools. But to make sure that every student has an opportunity to get a proper education, we need to do more.

Legislators passed a law last year to raise the minimum teacher salary to $50,000 but it hasn’t been funded. It should be.

Raises should be found for ed techs and other supporting positions, who do vital work in helping students who are behind catch up to their peers.

As part of that effort, state lawmakers should strongly consider increasing the percentage of education they fund; there is nothing special about 55% and no reason it can’t go up — so that struggling communities don’t have to raise more from property taxes.

Each community has a role to play as well. Residents should give what they can to the school district — there is no better investment for taxpayers — and work together to find other solutions that give schools the resources they need to thrive.

It’s time for communities to take a second and decide what they care about.

filed under: