It’s time for Maine to take a long, hard look at how it funds its schools.

The voting-day experiences last week of two southern Maine communities – Cumberland and North Yarmouth – provide a good starting point for a further-reaching conversation. A referendum for a $53.5 million school bond was narrowly approved at the ballot box Tuesday.

How narrowly? By 49 votes.

The multimillion-dollar bond will fund the construction of a new school for pre-K to first grade students, as well as a new high school turf field, new maintenance buildings, four new classrooms, and other school, road and parking upgrades.

These are valuable, needed improvements. Their return on investment is far, far more secure than many other categories of public spending. It follows that projects like these, in these communities and others all across Maine, shouldn’t only be achievable by scrabbling around locally for their funding.

The improvement and updating of our schools simply shouldn’t be at the patchwork-quilt mercy of voters alone. The narrow margin in Cumberland and North Yarmouth last week shows how risky this “model” is – and this in a pair of communities generally regarded as politically progressive and not at an economic disadvantage.


The case for investment in students is clear and easily made. Municipalities are wrongly forced to balance that against the burden they propose placing on their taxpayers –  including older adults and empty-nesters, for whom the upsides of school spending are far less direct.

What’s more, and almost too obvious to require pointing out, is that district-by-district funding of schools in this fashion means that schools in affluent districts will continue to be insulated from the ravages of sustained underfunding.

We’re not talking about the absence of a “state of the art” sports field. We’re talking about a well-documented lack of funding leading to deferred maintenance resulting in mold, crumbling mortar and violations of code; about schools wrongly being forced to lease modular classrooms (often at punishing expense) for the sake of their students’ basic well-being.

The state should take the initiative to begin more fully and equitably funding school projects. As this editorial board has highlighted many times over, Maine is in good financial shape in recent years, “unusually solvent thanks to infusions of federal pandemic funds and climbing tax revenue.”

The state’s bloated “rainy day” fund cannot accept another dollar. Look around and you will see state subsidies landing in other places: electric vehicle charging stations, the lobster fishery, outdoor learning, storm relief work, even the enticement of remote workers.

More revenue should be shared from the state government to municipal governments for this purpose.

The public well understands the value of investing in schools. There’s no reason that investment should vary so wildly, municipality to municipality, and no reason individual taxpayers should be left to shoulder so much of it alone.

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