If we want to put more money in our classrooms, we need a more efficient education system.
We often hear from people throughout the state who want more of the over $2.2 billion dollars spent on education to go into the classroom. I agree. It is unacceptable that we have underpaid teachers in Maine schools who must take money out of their own pockets for classroom supplies while there is bloated administration for over 240 school districts led by 148 superintendents for only 175,000 students.
Maine’s public school infrastructure has not kept up with our declining student population. Education spending has risen by 27% over the past ten years. Meanwhile, student enrollment in our schools has decreased by eleven percent and we have one of the lowest student to teacher ratios in the country.
We must take a hard look at where school districts are spending the money that we already send them and invest in new, cost-saving solutions. If local communities want to spend their own money on administrative overhead, they are welcome to do that, but the state will be investing in regional administrative centers that can reduce cost and improve resources and opportunities for students. Our administration will introduce a bill to the Legislature that will enable regional education service agencies to serve local school districts.
Superintendents ask me to stop saying that we have too many of them in Maine – but they all know that it’s true. To be sure, there are some good and talented superintendents in our communities but we can surely do with far fewer than 148 of them. Our students will benefit from a less fragmented system that can provide access to more educational opportunities.
Florida has 3 million students with 64 superintendents. Maine has 174,000 students and 148 superintendents. Florida also spends considerably less per student and based on The National Assessment of Educational Progress Florida students achieve much better achievement results.
Over the next two years, we will support local efforts for schools to collaborate, save cost, and improve services for students. Several such efforts are already under way.
In Western Maine, an “education collaborative” allows thirteen districts serving over 13,000 students to save money on virtual courses, professional development, software and training. In Bangor, fourteen school districts have joined together to form a regional program for children with highly acute special needs, enabling access to education and services in the least restrictive environment. These services would be cost prohibitive in small districts. Providing them centrally has dramatically reduced cost while improving education for our most vulnerable students.
The Department of Education is identifying resources that can be made available immediately to provide grants to school districts that take on voluntary, innovative, grass-roots efforts to take long-term, non-classroom cost out of the system. We believe that $3 million can be made available to school districts this year. In my budget submission, I will once again ask the legislature for an additional $5 million to fund these efforts.
Many people talk about “more money for education,” but the hard work is making sure every dollar and every decision truly educates Maine students.