2015-12-04 / Community

Senator says education improvements shouldn’t wait

A bill designed to streamline school district funding advanced through the Legislative Council last week while a second bill aimed at increasing the state’s higher education attainment rate was rejected on party lines.

Sen. Rebecca Millet, who represents South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and part of Scarborough, sponsored both bills.

“I’m pleased to have won some Republican support for a commonsense measure designed to ease uncertainty around school funding at the local level,” Millett said. “However, I’m disappointed that not a single GOP leader would back this effort to grow our graduation rate and refocus our commitment to workforce development.”

The Legislative Council is comprised of the top five Democrats and top five Republicans in the Legislature. A majority vote by the council is required for any bill submitted for the second regular session, which begins in January. At its October meeting, the council rejected both of Millett’s bills on party lines, with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans voting against.

During an appeal last Thursday, Millett successfully won a 7-3 vote to support LR 2329, “An Act to Facilitate the Use of State Education Subsidies.” Because state and local budget cycles operate on different calendars, school boards often have to craft budgets and put them out for a public vote before complete information on state education funding is available.

LR 2329 would streamline the budgeting process for Maine towns and cities by allowing them to hold referendums on warrant articles to bridge potential gaps in education funding caused by this misalignment of state and local budget cycles.

The council maintained its 5-5 split vote on LR 2320, “An Act to Promote Postsecondary Education Attainment and Degree Completion,” which would have set a benchmark goal for higher education attainment – such as college degrees or technical certificates – in Maine, and would have established the Commission on Higher Education and Workforce Needs.

The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce estimates that by 2020, 65 percent of U.S. jobs will require post-secondary education. Meanwhile, Maine’s college attainment rate lags behind the rest of New England. Without an established target for graduation rates, it is impossible to track the state’s progress.

“Maine prosperity tomorrow depends on success of Maine schools today,” Millett said. “Education policy requires careful planning, and results don’t happen overnight. This initiative should not have had to wait another year.”

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