Jim Fossel painted a dark picture of Maine education in a recent column, but with a total lack of hard data (”Maine needs more school reform,” July 16). He claimed, “Maine ranks near the top in spending per student but near the bottom in teacher pay.” Well, maybe not quite, and let’s review some numbers and sources.
Concordia College (Portland, Oregon), using 2014 data, published “Public Education Costs per Pupil by State.” Maine spent $12,707 per pupil but was outspent by 14 others, including every other New England state and New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and the District of Columbia.
In another study using 2013 data from the National Center for Education Statistics, StartClass adjusted for the cost of living in each state, and Maine was the 18th most expensive at $11,939 per student. That’s about a third of the way down the list, not the top.
Turning to teacher salaries, Wallethub, a personal finance website reported Maine was 43rd of 51 (50 states and D.C.) in teacher pay; 82 percent pay more. Wyoming has the highest salaries and North Carolina the lowest. Massachusetts has the fourth highest and neighboring New Hampshire is at 27.
School districts wanting to pay teachers higher wages won’t get much support from the state. The funding model that develops the cost per student will only allow costs for a statewide average and then adjust that calculation for the local labor market. Paying teachers more, as Fossel suggests in his piece, will rest with local taxpayers; not an easy proposal to pitch and adopt.
The compromise reached to fund education for fiscal year 2018 was largely to provide local property tax relief, not “throwing money at the schools.” Let’s have the suggested “real, substantive debate” and incorporate hard data and source citations in the dialogue.
F. Gerard Nault