The 128th Legislature has finally adjourned. History will soon forget the challenges, drama, dysfunction and battles of this Legislature. There were several significant challenges to consider this session, but none more important than funding Maine’s public schools. It is here that we find probably the crowning achievement of the 128th Legislature.

As much as Democrats and Republicans disagree on numerous issues, we can all agree on the importance of education. Our children spend their formative years in our classrooms, and the experience they have there greatly affects their chances for success in their adult years. Today’s students are tomorrow’s teachers, doctors, farmers and mechanics. Public education is truly an investment in Maine’s future.

In 2016, voters told legislators loud and clear in a referendum that they wanted more money for the public schools. A major flaw in the referendum question, however, was a three percent surtax on Maine’s small businesses and professionals, such as doctors, dentists and others who are difficult to attract to Maine, in order to pay for more school funding. The impact on Maine’s economy would have been devastating. Business owners were already leaving Maine because of the surtax. During one of the most highly attended public hearings in recent memory, Maine small business owners and employees pleaded with lawmakers to roll back this job-killing tax hike.

Senate Republicans were clear from the start, we would honor the spirit of what the voters passed at the ballot box, but we would not harm Maine’s economy in the process. Our caucus was united in the path forward and Sens. Amy Volk, R-Cumberland, Scott Cyrway, R-Kennebec, Dana Dow, R-Lincoln, and David Woodsome, R-York, helped lead the way.

Working together, Republicans and Democrats found a way to scrap the harmful surtax while, at the same time, committing more than $162 million to our public schools. This is the largest one-time increase in K-12 education in Maine history.

This is extremely important for Maine’s towns and cities. They count on receiving education funding from the state in order to hold down property taxes. Budgets for schools, public works, law enforcement and other services all affect the property tax burden in local communities. When the state of Maine shoulders a bigger percent of education funding, the result is a lower local property tax burden.

We should all be proud that, for the first time, the Legislature met its obligation to provide 55 percent of funding for the state’s public schools. This goal had eluded lawmakers since voters approved a referendum in 2004 that called for the 55 percent threshold to be met by the state.

The funding increase that led to the 55 percent target being reached was part of the two-year budget that was passed in 2017. Since then, changes to the education funding formula have been made that have dropped the percentage down to about 53 percent.

What is lost in the 55 percent versus 53 percent discussion is this: we are funding Maine’s public schools at unprecedented levels, and we should all be proud of this accomplishment. I believe that the next Legislature can once again reach the 55 percent threshold if both sides agree to put their political posturing aside and work for the people of Maine.

Future legislatures will need to work hard to continue to sustain and even grow this historic level of state aid to education. Many other priorities will come knocking at the door. The key will be to continue to strike the right balance between generating an appropriate amount of tax revenues, while not harming our job creators and hurting Maine families. This work will not be easy but it is critical to continuing to move Maine’s economy forward while also investing in our children and our future.

Republicans and Democrats at the State House often have competing and conflicting views on some of the most pressing matters facing our state. But I believe that by reaching an agreement that provided more money for Maine’s schools and, at the same time, protected the state’s economy from harm, we proved that, even amid dysfunction, we can still work together.

Michael Thibodeau, R-Waldo, is the president of the Maine Senate.

Michael Thibodeau


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