As a member of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee – sometimes known as “the budget committee” — I work with my colleagues, both Democrats and Republicans, to balance both the books and the many priorities that drive our decision-making throughout the process. In the coming months, I plan to highlight some of the practical investments that we are making with Maine’s $1.2 billion surplus. As we emerge from the pandemic, we need to offer immediate relief to Mainers and set ourselves up for long-term prosperity and success. With this budget, we are closer to attaining those goals.
To kick this series off, I want to discuss what we’re doing for education. Last year, the Legislature helped the state meet its obligation to fund public K-12 education at 55 percent for the first time since this was mandated by Maine voters in 2004. To ensure that the state continues to meet this commitment, this budget creates the Education Rainy Day Fund. On top of that, we are making it possible for the Maine Community College System to offer free tuition for the high school graduating classes of 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023. The height of the pandemic was a challenging time for students — and their parents — and I hope that this program will help students and their parents bounce back stronger than ever.
Likewise, we froze tuition at the University of Maine System for another year, making this the seventh year out of the last 10 that in-state tuition has not gone up. This year, it’s especially exciting that we accomplished this now that UMaine has attained R1 status as a top research institution, making it one of the top research schools in the whole country. For students who choose to attend UMaine, or any Maine institution of higher learning, the Opportunity Maine benefit increased to $2,500 per year and up to $25,000 over a lifetime. For those who don’t know, Opportunity Maine is an income tax credit for qualifying Maine workers who make eligible student loan payments. However, we know that not every student needs or wants to attend community college or university. That’s why we put $1.6 million toward our career and technical centers, which ensure that we train up students who can earn good wages and fill the gaps in our workforce.
Additionally, the budget will fund several bills that deal with education. Rep. David McCrea’s LD 449, “An Act To Strengthen the Ability of Public Employers and Teachers’ Unions To Negotiate,” will strengthen the bargaining position of our teachers who have been on the frontlines of the pandemic, just as much as our caregivers, EMS responders and volunteers, grocery store workers, health care providers and many more. Similarly, Rep. Rebecca Millett’s LD 1716, “An Act To Ensure Full Payment of the State’s Salary Supplement Obligation to Teachers with National Board Certification,” will ensure that our teachers are being compensated when they take the time — on top of their regular duties — to become national board-certified teachers which will lead to better outcomes for our students. Finally, the budget funds Speaker Ryan Fecteau’s LD 1652, “An Act To Build a Child Care System by Recruiting and Retaining Maine’s Early Childhood Educators Workforce,” which will increase pay for child care workers and early childhood educators. They are yet another group of people who, whether there’s a pandemic or not, do heroic work for our younger Mainers. We need to support them and make sure that they know we appreciate all the hard work they do.
As you can see, my colleagues and I take education very seriously, from the toddlers to the young adults – and beyond. Investing in Maine’s education system will grow our economy and our workforce, help us attract people from our neighboring states, and enable Mainers to raise up their families to have a good, decent life.
As always, you can reach out to me anytime at [email protected] or (207) 287-1515. It is an honor to represent you.
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