By now, the Maine children who started kindergarten in the fall of 2004 are all grown up.

Some of them are completing a four-year enlistment in the military, others are advancing in a trade and still others will be accepting college diplomas this month.

But they all have one thing in common: None of them — not one — attended a single day of school in which the state met its education funding obligation.

During good times and bad, Maine has never funded 55 percent of the total K-12 education budget, even though it has been the law since the passage of a referendum 17 years ago. As a result, the kindergarten class of 2004, and all those that followed, have attended schools that struggled to pay the bills.

That history alone would make Gov. Mills’ proposal to spend an additional $187 million on education over the next two years, finally meeting the legal and moral obligation to fund education, good news. But meeting this standard is less about history than it is about looking to the future.

It’s grossly unfair that a Maine child can have an entirely different educational opportunity based on where they happen to live, but that has been the truth in Maine for a long time. The state has tried to smooth out the inequities by paying more of the bills for towns and cities that don’t have a rich property tax base, but those schools are the ones that suffer the most when the state does not meet its obligation.

This is not only bad for those individual children and their families, but it also hurts the state’s economy, which needs more well-educated workers to fill the jobs left open by retirement in our aging state. And it puts pressure on property taxpayers who have had to fill the gap left by the state government’s welching

Republicans in Augusta are pushing back on Mills’ budget proposal that includes the additional education funding. They are saying that Maine should cut income taxes, returning surplus revenue to the people who paid it.

That sounds good, but spending more on schools is a tax cut, too. The 55 percent education commitment was designed by the Maine Municipal Association in order to ease the burden on property taxpayers. Income taxes collected by the state ask the most from those who have the most, and cutting income taxes gives the biggest relief to those at the top. Sales tax, the other major source of state revenue, is paid in large part by the millions of visitors who come to Maine every year.

Property taxes, collected on the local level, hit people regardless of their ability to pay. If there is a choice about which one to cut, the answer should be clear.

Ten years ago, then-Gov. Paul LePage put forward the biggest income tax cuts in history and paid for it by withdrawing support from education and municipal revenue-sharing. That put pressure on the taxpayers who support school districts and municipal services. The LePage tax rates have never been raised. It’s the property taxpayer’s turn for a break.

Keeping the state’s promise to fully fund K-12 education spreads the burden of investing in our future more equitably. Once this mark is hit, it will be more difficult for future Legislatures and governors to shirk their responsibility.

It’s important that we don’t have another generation of students who pass through our schools without the state paying its fair share

Reprinted from The Portland Press Herald.