By Ben Velderman

AUGUSTA, Maine – Every year, 54 out of 100 Maine college freshmen discover they don’t have the basic reading, writing or math skills necessary to complete university-level work. These students wind up in remedial classes where they learn how to write a coherent essay and understand fundamental math principles.

In other words, college professors are doing the work many high school teachers fail to do.

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This trend costs Maine students millions in tuition fees, delays their progress toward earning a degree, and causes their financial aid to run out faster, reports The Portland Press Herald.

The entire inefficient process is also costing the average Maine taxpayer double: not only are they paying for an ineffective K-12 public school system, but they’re underwriting the costs of the state’s community colleges and universities that have to provide students with remedial services.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage has a solution: He has proposed legislation that would require high schools to pay for their graduates’ remedial courses, the Press Herald reports.

The governor argues this would give high schools an incentive to ensure their students have basic skills before being allowed to graduate.

The governor’s proposal dovetails with a new state law that requires Maine’s public colleges and universities to report remediation data to the state. The information should give taxpayers a better sense of the problem and how much it’s costing them.

Of course, this problem isn’t exclusive to the Pine Tree State. Thirty-six percent of first-year undergraduates took at least on remedial class during the 2007-08 academic year, the paper reports.

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That adds up to an estimated $3.6 billion a year in educational costs, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education.

“I don’t know that there are any serious bad guys here,” Scott Knapp, president of Central Maine Community College in Auburn, told the newspaper. “Across the board it’s something that the secondary education people are really talking about. Everybody sees that there’s a problem here.”

We politely disagree with Mr. Knapp . There are some “bad guys” who are contributing to the problem.

Teacher union leaders are continually trying to discredit so-called “high stakes testing,” which actually allows parents to gauge their child’s abilities. For all their shortcomings, standardized tests serve as red flags to parents and school officials, indicating when a student is falling behind. Without such tests, the need for remediation at the college level will continue.

Union leaders also contribute to the problem when they use every means necessary to keep ineffective and indifferent teachers in the classroom. The unions place a high value on bulletproof job protections for teachers, even when it harms student achievement.

The other “bad guys” in this scenario are the many left-wing teachers who fritter away precious class time trying to indoctrinate students on their pet political causes, instead of sticking to the required curriculum. Students leave such classes well-versed on the “evils” of capitalism, but lacking many of the basic skills they should have been learning.

LePage’s proposal to penalize schools for producing unprepared graduates is already generating criticism from K-12 officials who don’t want any type of accountability. Instead, they argue the way to solve the problem is to pour more money into “professional development” for teachers or longer school years.

Give them some grudging credit: The establishment types can take any education problem and spin it as a K-12 funding problem.

There’s no telling what the fate of the governor’s provocative proposal will be. But one thing seems clear: Americans understand that there must be accountability for our public education system.

Taxpayers can no longer spend billions annually for lackluster results.

College students can no longer take out hefty student loans to learn skills they should have mastered in high school.

Americans are running out of time, money and patience.