One of the most basic tenets of sound educational funding is that a state should work to level the playing field of educational opportunity for all of its students. More specifically for Maine, funding should at least attempt to create equal access to and opportunity for all students regardless of whether they live in Falmouth, Augusta, Fort Kent, Lubec or anywhere in the state. Obviously some communities have greater means to provide the extras that other communities cannot afford, but for the state of Maine the goal should be to seek equality of educational opportunity for all of its students. Subsidy allocations should reflect this.

Many legislators, the governor and the Maine Department of Education are not living up to that responsibility and have exacerbated the lack of educational opportunity for students in a number of communities in Maine by the imposition of penalties on their districts for not reorganizing. Not only is the state taking money from students in certain districts — many of them poor communities — but it has redistributed that funding to students in other districts, many of which are wealthier and many of which were basically exempt from the reorganization process. How can it possibly make any ethical sense to take money from students in poor communities and give it to students in wealthy ones?

And the funding gap is widened not only because communities are penalized, but also because when those funds are redistributed, the funding gap is wider by a margin greater than the penalty. For example, if $100,000 in penalties is taken from multiple districts and redistributed so that other districts gain $20,000 each, the funding gap between communities being penalized and those receiving penalty money is widened not by the $100,000 penalty, but rather by the new gap of $120,000. So much for the ethical ground of providing equitable educational opportunity. Although some of the communities in our area probably would not be described as poor, and in fact we offer students a broad range of opportunities, I think it is important to view this impact from a statewide perspective and not take a self-serving, local view. Legislators and state policy makers need to support what is good for all of the students in Maine.

At this point in the political process, it will take courage for legislators, especially those in districts receiving the benefits of these penalties, to say, “Wait a minute; this is not right,” and to find a fix that is fair to all of the students in Maine. I hope there is a commitment to all Maine students and the ethical will to act on that commitment.

Michael S. Weatherwax is assistant superintendent of schools for the Five Town Community School District and Maine School Administrative District 28.