AUGUSTA — Mainers believe their schools are doing a good job, but think more money should be spent on education, according to a poll released Wednesday.
A poll of more than 500 residents conducted on behalf of the Maine Education Association also found that 53 percent of Maine voters think the surplus should be used to reduce taxes. When asked what type of tax relief they prefer, 41 percent of those polled opted for a reduction in property taxes, the local tax that supports schools.
If the state chooses to use the surplus to increase state funding, 47 percent said public schools should be the top priority for new funding, according to the poll, conducted in December by Kiley & Company of Boston.
People think more money is needed for schools, the poll found. Fifty-seven percent of those polled said that the state’s public schools need more money in order to do a good job. Only 4 percent said schools are overfunded.
“For us, the public’s message is simple: `Provide property tax relief by increasing general purpose aid to schools,”‘ said Tim Humphrey, president of the MEA, the labor union for most of the state’s educators. “We hope Governor King and leaders of the 118th Legislature will listen carefully to this message and act upon it.”
Several Democratic lawmakers who attended a State House press conference to release the survey results said they were already on board.
“We have a long way to go with this, but I believe the stars are aligned in our favor,” said House Speaker Elizabeth Mitchell, D-Vassalboro. “We can give both property tax relief … and increase our investment in education at the same time.”
Senate President Mark Lawrence, D-Kittery, said his party already was in step with Maine people in making education a top priority. “Increased education funding … does the most good for the greatest number of Mainers,” he said.
Their sentiments echo those of President Clinton who, during Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, declared that education would be the top priority in the remaining days of his administration.
The poll also found that the majority of voters believe the state’s public schools are doing a good job and have improved in the past few years. Half the voters polled said their local schools were doing an above-average job, and 14 percent said they were doing an excellent job. Parents with children in the public schools gave even higher ratings.
In addition, 41 percent of voters believed schools had improved, while 29 percent believe they have declined a little.
Support for public school teachers was also strong, with 78 percent of those polled saying they have a favorable opinion of teachers. Only Gov. Angus King got higher ratings — 86 percent.