(The following is an Op-Ed piece from Bangor Daily News that was also published on Independent Maine gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler’s campaign website.)
As a veteran Maine public school teacher, I applaud independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler’s educational proposals. It is only through strong leadership in Augusta that we can turn around the crisis in many Maine schools that lack resources to deal with the problems.
Cutler believes that states that do well economically consistently make investments in education, all the way from early childhood through elementary and high school and even beyond. I agree that a skilled workforce is absolutely necessary for our state to grow and prosper, and that requires an educated workforce.
Actually, you really can’t talk about jobs without talking about education.
It’s a sad story to tell when the student population is decreasing, yet the educational spending is increasing. If money alone could fix the problems in schools, Maine would be in the top five schools in the nation. It’s just not that simple.
I have witnessed, for example, children who were raised in poverty facing daily challenges that financially secure children never confront. That is why Cutler’s proposed Early Childhood Challenge caught my attention.
It would build on the Head Start program but expand it to include Early Head Start and preschool for every 3- and 4-year-old in Maine. Starting students off on the right foot cannot begin too early, especially for those children who need the extra help or incentive to value education.
Another of Cutler’s proposals is the Extra Help Challenge. He believes, and I agree, that children raised in poverty are faced every day with challenges that financially secure children never confront. High poverty school districts, for example, where 50 percent or more of the children qualify for free or reduced lunch, would be eligible under Cutler’s plan for additional money under “extra help awards.” Cutler wants to earmark up to $39 million for those awards.
Sometimes, I would look at the faces of my second graders, and I could tell immediately which ones had eaten a nourishing breakfast — or any breakfast at all.
Yet another Cutler proposal would be to reward teachers who go above and beyond the daily grind of taking attendance, assigning work, explaining the work, correcting that work and passing it back. Cutler realizes that the single most important ingredient in education is the quality of teaching. In order to attract and retain the best teachers in Maine, the powers that be in Augusta need to make these teachers feel valued and supported and give every reason why they should stay in Maine.
Cutler wants to propose a Highly Effective Educator Challenge, committing $9 million each year to honor outstanding instructional practice and leadership. The rewards would extend to traditional public educators, teams of educators or schools.
There have been times when other teachers and I put in our own money for one more meaningful field trip, one more educational device that would attract today’s children, or simple rewards for jobs well done. The support from Augusta for these worthwhile activities could make the difference for many students who leave school in June with a positive attitude toward their education.
And finally, we must attract and keep graduates of Maine’s universities and colleges who will make outstanding teachers. How can we do that when they are swamped with student loans and can make more money in other states? We do already offer limited incentives for some graduates of Maine colleges by offering a tax credit to students; however, Cutler would like to expand on that, and I believe this is needed.
So now that I am retired after too many years to count in a Maine public school system, I finally have found a politician who speaks to my heart. He wants the same things for all Maine children — regardless of their zip codes — that I want: an equal playing field. It should not in the slightest matter whether you are from Milo or Falmouth or the Allagash. A child is a child, and each and every child deserves the bounty that is ours — strong schools, top-notch teachers, and especially government support and incentives.
Maine educators are dedicated to preparing our children for the future, and it is my belief that Eliot Cutler can make that happen.