LePage Claims “Unconstitutional” For State To Fund Schools

Posted on October 26, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

A moment from another recent town hall, this one held by Maine Governor Paul LePage at Lewiston High School, is getting some attention:

    “Do you know that it’s unconstitutional in the state of Maine for the state to pay one dollar towards education?” the governor asked the Lewiston audience. “But we’ve never changed the constitution. We’ve been doing it for decades, but it’s [clear] the constitution says the state will only ensure that local communities pay for educating their students at their costs.”

    “And I’m meeting with the Chief Justice on Friday to ask why does this continue to happen? And they say, ‘Well, we take the precedent and you’ve been doing it, so we would say you’ve got to continue doing it.’ So if that’s the case, then why are we asking a governor to take an oath to the United States Constitution and an oath to the Maine Constitution when the Constitution doesn’t mean what the Constitution says. It only means what the court says it says when they decide to discuss it in the courts. But that’s a fact.”

Maine Education Association President Lois Chesley-Kilby has responded to the above and other allegations from LePage:

    MEA Responds to LePage’s Comments on School Funding, Unions, Guns in School

    At a town hall forum in Lewiston last week, the governor talked about teachers unions not supporting his online education initiatives. He also said the state would never fund education at 55 percent, and said that according to the state constitution, state funding to local schools is “unconstitutional.” He also said he supports allowing teachers and staff to carry guns in school as long as they have the “proper training” and added that it is “stupid to put a sign on the wall that says ‘gun-free zone’” because the sign serves as an invitation for mass shooters to come in. Below is a response to some of those comments from the president of the Maine Education Association, Lois Kilby-Chesley:

    Re Online Education:

      In spite of the Governor’s belief in education-by-screen as he mentioned in this Lewiston town hall, the efforts of the teachers who see students every day cannot be matched by any computer program. The Governor is so wrong if he thinks the solution to educating our students is through a screen. There are innumerable ways that educators interact with students that are missed by technology. The nuances of students’ facial expressions, the look of engagement in an activity, knowing when a student really needs someone to listen, are all things no computer program can replicate. Teaching and learning are all about being a human, being a citizen, being a lifelong learner. Teaching and learning are not all exclusively about technology. Technology is only one piece of the education puzzle.

      Governor LePage takes questions from an audience member at Lewiston town hall, 10/13/15.

      Governor LePage takes questions from an audience member at Lewiston town hall, 10/13/15.

      The Governor flaunts that 55% funding of education never will become a reality. He clearly doesn’t believe that our students deserve equal opportunities no matter where the student lives and regardless of zip code. MEA believes that 55% is one part of the answer to giving EVERY student in Maine a chance to compete — based on achievement, motivation, and the chance to improve him/herself — not based on family income or community demographics. The Essential Programs and Services (EPS) model for funding education is meant to level the funding to schools, providing a more fair way get resources to schools than exclusively through property taxes collected by towns.

    Re School Funding from the State:

      Once again the Governor threatens that the Constitution isn’t being followed. He apparently believes that municipalities are responsible for all education costs. But, he either forgets, or doesn’t know, that laws require costs of education be paid by the state (including 55%). School funding by the state would only be unConstitutional if the document prohibited school funding, which it doesn’t. In fact, without state payments to schools how would the Governor propose to fund the charter schools he so loves to promote?

    Re Arming Teachers:

      The idea of arming educators was discussed in the past and it was quite obvious the Legislature was not willing to risk school safety by having teachers and others carry firearms in our schools. If the Governor proposes educators should be trained to carry guns in classrooms, the MEA will work vehemently against him.

      The Maine Education Association represents, and only exists, because our educator members in Maine believe that our organization works to improve schools for our students. We are much more than educator advocates, and continually work for social justice in our classrooms and for our communities.

    Re the MEA:

      There are many examples that discredit the Governor’s pessimistic view of “the teachers’ union.” We do many things including, in just the last year or so, collecting items — including more than 1,000 pairs of socks — for Togus Veterans’ Hospital, partnering with WMTW on an anti-bullying campaign, partnering with WGME and Good Shepherd Food Bank in School Spirit Challenges in southern Maine, partnering with WABI to collect food for hungry families in north/central Maine, and for the last two years (and again upcoming this year) providing books for Maine students. This year, in partnership with a local Foundation, we will once again be providing every Maine first grader in every public school, a book to begin an at-home library.

      In addition, educators in schools across the state take collections of items for those in need, dip into their own pockets to pay for shoes, coats, mittens and food for students, and have an ever-expanding list of ways they help our students and their families.

      In addition the MEA Board of Directors and other members have collected materials for schools in need whenever necessary to help them get by very difficult times. (Hall School in Portland had a fire for instance a while back, and members contributed to help them and MEA bought gift cards.)

      The Governor, as he is prone to doing, continues to attack public educators by attacking the MEA, as he did again in Lewiston. As I said earlier, the MEA only exists because of our members, so when the Governor attacks MEA he is attacking every one of our hard-working, conscientious teachers, educational support professionals, bus drivers, custodians, food service workers, school secretaries and other MEA members. He needs to learn that education matters, and educators matter, because we are the people who are with our students every day doing our best in spite of his actions that repeatedly demean and devalue our public schools, school employees and students.

Here is the full video of Governor LePage’s town hall.

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AFA/ Education Committee Take up LR 1852 (LePage Biennial Budget, FY 2016-17) in Public Hearing

Posted on March 13, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

On Monday, the Maine 127th Legislature’s Education Committee met with Appropriations to hear testimony regarding Governor LePage’s proposed FY 2016-17 biennial budget. The morning’s agenda:

    10:00 AM HIGHER EDUCATION AND CULTURAL AGENCIES
    University of Maine, Board of Trustees of the
    · Casco Bay Estuary Project – University of Southern Maine
    · Debt Service – University of Maine System
    · Educational & General Activities – UMS
    · Maine Centers for Women, Work and Community
    · Maine Economic Improvement Fund
    · UM Cooperative Extension – Pesticide Education
    · University of Maine Scholarship Fund
    Community College System, Board of Trustees of the Maine
    · Bring College to ME Program
    · Maine Community College System – Board of Trustees
    Finance Authority of Maine
    · Educational Opportunity Tax Credit Marketing Fund
    · FHM – Dental Education
    · FHM – Health Education Centers
    · Student Financial Assistance Programs
    Maritime Academy, Maine
    · Maine Maritime Academy Scholarship Fund – Casino
    · Maritime Academy – Operations
    Arts Commission, Maine
    · Arts – Administration
    · Arts – General Grants Program
    · Arts – Sponsored Program
    Cultural Affairs Council, Maine State
    · New Century Program Fund
    Historic Preservation Commission, Maine
    · Historic Commercial Rehabilitation Fund
    · Historic Preservation Commission
    · Historic Preservation Revolving Fund
    Historical Society, Maine
    · Historical Society
    Humanities Council, Maine
    · Humanities Council
    Library, Maine State
    · Administration – Library
    · Maine Public Library Fund
    · Maine State Library
    · Statewide Library Information System Museum, Maine State
    · Maine State Museum
    · Maine State Museum – Operating Fund
    · Research and Collection – Museum
    Public Broadcasting Corporation, Maine
    · Maine Public Broadcasting Corporation

Here are clips from the resulting four hours’ worth of testimony.

AFA/ Edu LR 1852 Public Hearing, Monday 3/9/15 (Pt 1)

AFA/ Edu LR 1852 Public Hearing, Monday 3/9/15 (Pt 2)

AFA/ Edu LR 1852 Public Hearing, Monday 3/9/15 (Pt 3)

AFA/ Edu LR 1852 Public Hearing, Monday 3/9/15 (Pt 4)

AFA/ Edu LR 1852 Public Hearing, Monday 3/9/15 (Pt 5)

AFA/ Edu LR 1852 Public Hearing, Monday 3/9/15 (Pt 6)

AFA/ Edu LR 1852 Public Hearing, Monday 3/9/15 (Pt 7)

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Maine Democrats Introduce LD 695, Clarifying Right To Opt Out Of Standardized Testing

Posted on March 8, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

Lois Kilby-Chesley, Maine Education Association president, and Rep. Sara Gideon

Lois Kilby-Chesley, Maine Education Association president, and Rep. Sara Gideon

Democrats held a press conference in the State House’s Welcome Center with area parents and PTA members to roll out a proposed bill aimed at clarifying the rights of students bombarded with a slew of standardized testing under the “No Child Left Behind” Act.

While parents already have the right to opt out, there has been confusion among parents, superintendents and school boards. LD 695, “An Act To Empower Parents in the Education of Their Children by Allowing an Opt-out from Standardized Assessments” would codify those rights in state statute and eliminate any confusion on the matter. The bill is sponsored by Asst House Majority Leader Rep. Sara Gideon (D-Freeport) and Senator Nate Libby (D-Androscoggin).

Due to federal mandates, schools are spending more time than ever preparing students for standardized tests. Under No Child Left Behind, students are tested every year in grades 3 through 8, and the state is moving toward testing all third- through 12th-graders.

In addition to codifying parents’ rights, the bill:

· requires alternate learning opportunities for students who opt out;

· requires that school districts inform parents of their rights by posting the information in a public place, like the Internet;

· ensures teachers are allowed to notify parents of their rights; and

· prohibits the state from penalizing a district when students have opted out.

Via press release:

    “As the mother of three kids, I know how much time these tests now take and about the stress and anxiety high-stakes testing causes for teachers, educators, parents and students,” said Rep. Sara Gideon (D-Freeport). “I really want Maine to have a conversation about the sheer number of tests our kids are taking, the effectiveness of these tests and whether we’re using these tests in the best way to improve education for our kids.”

    DSC_0138“Teachers, parents and students in my community are fearful, frustrated and seeking relief from these heavy-handed testing mandates,” said Sen. Nate Libby (D-Lewiston). “This legislation is simple and straightforward. And, it will ensure parents and students know and understand their rights. School performance, teacher performance and student performance based so heavily on standardized testing is deeply flawed. We all know some students perform better than others on standardized tests and that test results do not universally reflect individual students overall academic performance. Classroom time is at a premium. State and federal mandates on classroom instruction continue to grow while teachers and students struggle to meet all the requirements in a six-hour school day.”

    Karen McClure-Richard, a Lewiston parent, described the standardized testing experience of her daughter. The tests didn’t have “cut scores” – set benchmarks for passing a test – but instead looked for progress made from previous tests. Because her daughter scored high, her goal scores climbed higher and higher. In her sixth-grade year, she put a great deal of pressure on herself before missing the goal score by one point despite doing her very best.

    “She came home very upset and eventually told me that she felt ‘stupid,’”
    McClure-Richard said. “My daughter who made honors every single year felt stupid and subsequently lost her love of school because of a meaningless test. Because she missed the growth goal, she also contributed to the ‘failure’ of her teacher and the ‘failure’ of the school even though she scored the equivalent of one grade level higher than the grade she was in.”

    Lorri Cahill, a kindergarten teacher in Skowhegan who has taught for 31 years, said there is no longer balance in the educational system.

    DSC_0155“The increasing amount of testing and assessing is leading to missed educational opportunities. In order to attempt to standardize children’s performance, we have adopted scripted lessons that are devoid of developmental theory. We are told to individualize our instruction, yet use high-stakes standardized tests to measure the success of that instruction,” said Cahill, who is opting her own son out of tests this spring.

    Lisa Cooley of Jackson, a school board member in RSU 4, said public education needs to be more responsive to students. The school district serves the communities of Brooks, Freedom, Jackson, Knox, Liberty, Monroe, Montville, Thorndike, Troy, Unity and Waldo.

    “This testing regime has created a toxic learning environment where too many children are left behind, disconnected from learning and ill-prepared for successful lives. With the advent of standards that are enforced by testing, we’ve embraced a regime that runs counter not only to the way kids learn, but to their happiness and fulfillment,” she said.

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Maine Lawmakers Focus on College Affordability: “It’s not just a young person problem”

Posted on March 8, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , |

commissionLawmakers, students, parents, and higher education leaders held a press conference in February endorsing a collaborative 10-point plan to reduce higher education costs and increase degree attainment. The plan is the outcome of the Commission to Study College Affordability and College Completion.

Highlights of the Commission’s plan include:

  • Increasing the Maine State Grant Program from around $1,000 (roughly the same amount offered in 1992) to $2,500.
  • Then to ensure timely degree completion, the grant will be structured on a tiered system that provides an additional $250 for each year a student is enrolled, up to five years;

  • Fully fund public higher education institutions in order to keep tuition low;
  • Increase transparency in college costs by having a published list of average class fees by majors for all Maine colleges and universities;
  • Encourage partnerships between higher ed institutions to develop open education resources, textbook coops, and free or reduced cost digital textbook options in order to help combat the rising prices of textbooks;
    Adoption of the innovative “Game Changers” strategies from Complete College America by our state’s public institutions;

  • Setting specific degree attainment goals by the state and a plan to reach them.

    The 13-member commission was created with the passage of LD 1849, “Resolve, To Establish the Commission to Study College Affordability and College Completion”, during the 126th Legislature and included lawmakers and experts.They began their work last summer by meeting with students, parents, graduates, stranded learners, college representatives, financial aid representatives and key stakeholders from across the higher education landscape.

      “The issue of college affordability is an issue that spans beyond just being a ‘young person’s issue.’ It’s a concern for students of all ages, and their families. It’s a concern for the employers who lack a skilled workforce. And, it’s a concern for all of us, who want an economically prosperous state,” said State Senator Rebecca Millett of Cape Elizabeth, who served as the co-chair of the task force.

      Statistics show that the average debt for Maine college students jumped 25 percent since 2008 to nearly $30,000–putting Maine at the 7th highest debt per student in the nation.

      “As co-chair of the Legislature’s Youth Caucus, I know how important higher education is to a career and earnings but that many of my peers face insurmountable barriers to finishing college,” Rep. Mattie Daughtry of Brunswick, the House chair of the commission. “The commission can be proud of its work and of tackling the complex issues around college completion. I’m especially glad that we are boosting the Maine State Grant, a key program that has not kept pace with the costs of higher education. It has remained at about the same level it had been in 1992, meaning it barely covers the cost of textbooks rather than making a big difference in tuition costs.”

    Rep. Matt Pouliot (R-Augusta) shared his prepared remarks:

      Good afternoon – I am Rep. Matt Pouliot, I represent district 86, West and North Augusta, and am co-chair of the Maine Youth Caucus and a member of the commission to study college affordability and completion.

      $1.2 TRILLION. Yes, that is TRILLION with a T. That was the amount of student loan debt as of 2013. It is a number that has TRIPLED in the last decade alone. IN FACT, Student loans have passed credit cards and auto loans to become the second biggest source of personal debt in the U.S. This is absurd.

      Rep. Matt Pouliot (R-Augusta)

      Rep. Matt Pouliot (R-Augusta)

      The cost of college is in some ways not the worst of it. Let’s take this a step further. Let’s suppose for a moment that you have amounted some level of student loan debt, you are out of school and you’ve not even completed your degree. This is the reality for many Maine people. In fact, it is a reality for nearly a quarter million Maine people who’ve started some form of post-secondary education but haven’t completed that training. They are stranded learners. This grim reality forced us to study not only affordability in our commission, but also completion.

      Future generations deserve better and need real higher education reform now. To increase degree completion we required the Boards of Trustees for the University of Maine System, Maine Community College System and the Maine Maritime Academy to report back to the Joint Standing Committee of Education and Cultural Affairs by July 1, 2015 regarding their reactions to the Game Changers strategies and how the State of Maine could assist in implementation of these strategies. These Game Changers strategies have been developed by Complete College America and include 5 key elements.

      These elements are:

       Senator Rebecca Millett (D-Cumberland) and Rep. Mattie Daughtry (D- Brunswick) speak at commission press conference.

      Senator Rebecca Millett (D-Cumberland) and Rep. Mattie Daughtry (D- Brunswick) answer media questions at commission press conference.

    • Performance Funding: Pay for performance, not just enrollment. Tie state funding to student progression through programs and completion of degrees and certificates. Include financial incentives to encourage the success of low-income students and the production of graduates in high-demand fields.

    • Corequisite Remediation: Default many more unprepared students into college-level gateway courses with mandatory, just-in-time instructional support. Combine reading and writing instruction. Align mathematics to programs of study, matching the curriculum to real-world career needs.
    • Full-Time is 15 Incentivize students to attend full-time and ensure that full-time means 15 credits per semester. Use banded tuition so 15 credits per semester cost students no more than 12 credits. Also, ensure that students can easily transfer credits.
    • Structured Schedules Help working students balance jobs and school by using structured scheduling of classes to add predictability to their busy lives — doing so enables many more students to attend college full-time, shortening their time to completion.
    • Guided Pathways to Success Enabled by technology, default all students into highly structured degree plans, not individual courses. Start students in a limited number of “meta majors,” which narrow into specific majors. Map out every semester of study for the entire program, and guarantee that milestone courses will be available when needed. Use built-in early warning systems to alert advisers when students fall behind to ensure efficient intervention.

      Now is the time for these important reforms. We must all get a one way ticket on the college affordability and completion bandwagon. The growth of our economy and the prosperity of our future generations depends on it.

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  • End of an Era: MCCS President John Fitzsimmons Bows to LePage Pressure, Resigns Post

    Posted on January 25, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , |

    One of the more surprising moments from Governor Paul LePage’s initial rollout of the FY 2016/17 biennial budget were off-the-cuff remarks he made and repeated his intentions to call for the resignation of Maine Community College System President Dr. John Fitzsimmons (9:00 mark):

      “I am going to ask for the president of the community college system to resign and I don’t know of any other better way to say that he’s been in a bunker and I haven’t been able to find him. End of story there.”

    Fitzsimmons issued a statement days later:

      “Gov. LePage has made known his desire for a change in leadership at the Maine community colleges,” said Fitzsimmons in a written statement Tuesday afternoon. “He has also called for flat funding of the [Maine Community College System] budget, while increasing the University of Maine System and Maine Maritime Academy. … Because I report to the [Maine Community College System] board of trustees, I have approached the board leadership to discuss the governor’s concerns, actions and the implications they hold for the system.”

    Despite having the full confidence of board members, Fitzsimmons decided to spare the colleges the governor’s wrath and later announced that he would indeed resign. One of his last acts as head of the MCCS was to meet before the Appropriations and Education Committees in Augusta.

    Upon hear of the resignation, LePage issued the following statement:

      “For more than two decades, President Fitzsimmons has presided over the Community College System and during that tenure he has accomplished great things. For this, I am appreciative and wish him the best in future endeavors.”

      “Today, creativity, innovation and competitiveness must propel an antiquated system into a new era. Our students deserve an education that provides them the tools to be successful. It is our job to ensure the educational opportunities are accessible and affordable and lead our youth on a path toward success.”

    Derek Langhauser, who has been MCCS’s general counsel for 20 years, has been named as interim president until a successor for Fitzsimmons is decided.

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    UPDATED: As Now 80 Maine Towns, Schools (5/29/13) Pass Resolutions Opposing LePage Budget, Gov Urges Towns “Work Together”

    Posted on May 28, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , |

    UPDATED 5/29/13: Total now stands at 80 communities and schools.

    lepage head 2At long last, Governor LePage has finally chosen to directly address the ever growing number of local municipal and school district voter passed resolutions against his administration’s biannual budget with its zero revenue sharing scheme- by essentially throwing his hands in the air and telling the towns to figure out the problems among themselves.

    What is going to be interesting to watch is how the GOP in the 126th Legislature react- as the governor insists on dragging them down with him.

    Via press release:

        Governor Urges Town Officials to Work Together to Find Solutions to State Budget Woes

      AUGUSTA – Hoping to encourage municipal officials to offer solutions about the upcoming biennial budget proposal, Governor Paul R. LePage today released a letter to city and town officials. The Governor acknowledges in the letter the opposition many mayors, city managers and selectmen have against his budget plan, and he admits it is not a budget he enjoyed putting forward.

      “The problem is there are only three large budget areas – education, welfare and revenue sharing,” wrote Governor LePage. “We cannot cut $200 million from debt service – the State must pay its bills. The Judicial Branch costs $100 million – courts are already behind, and I will not cut them further. Other core state functions – State Police, Corrections, our Natural Resource agencies – have been cut to the bone to feed continued growth in education and welfare spending, and they cannot be cut further without reducing public safety or our future economy. That leaves only the three large pots of money, and I chose revenue sharing.”

      In the letter, the Governor attached total general fund appropriations for Fiscal Year 2014-15, which shows the bulk of the budget – 44.8 percent – allocated to education. The Department of Health and Human Services uses 35.2 percent, and the remainder of State government accounts for 20 percent of general fund spending.

      Regardless of whether Governor LePage’s proposed cuts are ultimately implemented, Republicans believe local government must participate in making government at all levels more efficient.

      head scratcherAs Mayor of Waterville for eight years, the Governor was able to balance budgets while reducing property taxes. Working together with a Democratic City Council, he was able to decrease spending and lower taxes. A temporary loss in revenue sharing does not mean that property taxes will automatically go up. That is a local choice. It is not impossible for local government to save money, consolidate services and identify priorities.’

      “Most letters I receive say we made the wrong choice and that we should restore the $200 million subsidy to municipalities, but they do not suggest other cuts that should be made at the state level,” said Governor LePage. “It is easy to find fault and hard to find solutions. I welcome any suggestions town officials have to cut elsewhere in the state budget, but it is time for everyone to set complaints aside and offer solutions.”

      Governor LePage also extended an offer to assist town and city officials if they need flexibility from the State to reduce their own budgets. “If there are proposals to reduce administration and overhead by sharing services between towns, we will support them,” he said.

    Just a reminder of what the former Waterville mayor now Governor LePage said about proposed revenue share cuts to his city in 2009:

    The clip’s descriptive:

      During a 2009 city council meeting, a foul-mouthed Mayor Paul LePage attacked then-Gov. Baldacci for “sticking it to the property taxpayers” when a recession-induced revenue collapse forced across-the-board budget cuts. Gov. LePage is now proposing an even greater tax shift that favors rich Mainers at the expense of Maine’s middle class.

    Updated list of municipalities and schools as of 5/17/13:

    map

    (This list will be updated as more municipalities submit their passed resolutions to the Legislature. ~AP)

    *RELATED: Video: Did 2009 Waterville Mayor Paul LePage Rip 2013 Governor LePage For Revenue Sharing Cuts To Towns, Education Funding Failures?

    UPDATED: 62 (And Counting) Maine Municipalities, Schools Pass Resolutions Opposing LePage Biennual Budget (LR 1046)

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    Welcoming New Link, “Line Items”- Important Blog Page via Maine Center for Economic Policy

    Posted on May 24, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , |

    mecepLink here to site; here is a bit of their latest share, an important analysis with recommendations to lawmakers regarding LD 90, “An Act To Strengthen Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future” by Judy Harris: “Workforce bill helps adult learners, but does not go far enough” (emphasis mine).

      “A select committee of the 126th Maine Legislature set out to attract adults with prior education credits back to school. An Act to Strengthen Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future (LD 90) creates a UMaine scholarship program for adults to finish their baccalaureate degrees, expands community college associate degree programs, and eases the transfer of credits between the two. It also establishes a task force to find ways to increase adult degree completion rates. The House and Senate both unanimously passed the bill, which will jumpstart new careers for an estimated 2,300 working Mainers, raise incomes, and provide needed workforce skills for today’s economy.

      The committee is to be commended for their vision, hard work, and bipartisanship. Clearly LD 90 will help improve job prospects for many Mainers who, with a university education, can compete for better-paying jobs. Yet, low-income adults will have difficulty taking advantage of the bill’s good intentions.

      Maine’s Competitive Skills Scholarship program (CSSP) does just that. CSSP provides grants to low-income students not only for tuition and books, but also for child care, transportation, and family emergencies critical for them to enter and stay in school. CSSP makes higher education accessible to low-income, working Mainers.

      Unfortunately LD 90 does nothing for CSSP, which is proposed to be cut in the governor’s budget.

      We applaud the efforts of the legislature’s workforce committee. We support its ongoing work. We urge it to take a second look at CSSP.”

    Many thanks to MECEP for their excellent work and to Ms Harris for this important write-up.

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    Democrats McCabe, Millett Urge Support of LD 1185, Enhancing School Efforts To Use Locally Produced Foods

    Posted on April 13, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , |

    Maine would take a step toward increasing the use of locally produced foods in schools under a measure sponsored by Assistant House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan. McCabe’s bill, LD 1185, “An Act To Enhance Efforts To Use Locally Produced Food in Schools”, would require school districts to include its use of local foods in its existing annual reporting on their school meal programs. The addition of local foods to the report would require only a minor change to the existing reporting website.

    jeff full education cmteOther bill details include the following rating of schools:

  • “Gold Medal Eat Local School” = 30% or more locally produced foods usage
  • “Silver Medal Eat Local School” = 20-30%
  • “Bronze Medal Eat Local School” = 10-20%
  • The designations would be included on the state Department of Education website.

    Wiscasset Primary School, which purchases food from eight local farms, has had success in incorporating local foods into its cafeteria offerings, according to Abby Plummer, program director and farms-to-school educator for Focus on Agriculture in Rural Maine Schools.

      “The food service staff feels very proud to be able to serve fresh, healthy, local foods to children, and to support our local farmers and the economy,” Plummer said in testimony. “The children are excited every time there is a new local food item on their tray. Students who are exposed to local foods are learning lifelong healthy eating habits and simultaneously gaining a sense of respect, responsibility and appreciation for farming, their state, their community and their environment.”

    A typical food item in the United States travels 1,500 miles from farm to its final destination, and industrial agriculture is responsible for 20 percent of the nation’s fossil fuel consumption, Alexandra Fields, preservation associate for Environment Maine said in testimony. Locally produced foods reach their destinations in a more efficient manner, are less likely to have been produced with excessive chemicals and do not lose nutrients in a long shipping process, she said.

      “And, when schools buy seasonally, they are serving the freshest and best-tasting fruits and vegetables available, which is exactly what Maine’s kids deserve,” she said.

    The bill, co-sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans, also has the support of other supporters including Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and Maine People’s Alliance.

    Here is the testimony of the bills’ lead sponsor, House Assistant Majority Leader Rep. Jeff McCabe (D-Skowhegan).

    Rep. McCab answers questions of Rep. Mattie Daughtry (D-Brunswick)

    Rep. McCab answers questions of Rep. Mattie Daughtry (D-Brunswick)

      Good afternoon Senator Millett, Representative MacDonald and distinguished members of the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs. My name is Jeff McCabe and I serve as State Representative for District 85, the town of Skowhegan. I am pleased to present to you LD 1185, “An Act to Enhance Efforts to Use Locally Produced Food in Schools”.

      I think we can all agree that providing our students with fresh, healthy food sets them up for success in the classroom. Research shows that healthy eating can improve children’s concentration and classroom behavior and help them perform better in school. It also helps to lay the groundwork for healthy eating habits that can last a lifetime. One great way to achieve this is to increase the amount of fresh, locally produced food that is available to our students.

      This bill seeks to simply ask schools to add this once-a-year report to the nutrition and pricing reporting that they are already required to submit to the Maine Department of Education. The reporting is designed to be simple and integrated into the system that school nutrition professionals are already using to track and report the meals they serve, utilizing the same website that schools are currently using for this purpose. This minor addition to the current reporting requirements would provide parents, educators and lawmakers with a wealth of information about the food schools are serving our kids.

      I was surprised to learn that even though Maine is a rural state with a proud farming and fishing tradition, we import more of our food than any other state in the continental United States. That sad reality can easily result in serious consequences for our state’s overall health, educational achievement, environment and economy.

      Rather than make guesses or assumptions, based on anecdotal information, this processes would give the Department useful data when making school nutrition choices in the future. I urge the committee to support the bill and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

      Thank you.

    Chair Senator Rebecca Millett (D-Cumberland) also testified on behalf of LD 1185:

    rebecca millett

      Good afternoon Representative MacDonald and fellow Members of the Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs. I am Senator Rebecca Millett, representing District 7, which includes South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and a part of Scarborough. I am pleased to come before you in support of LD 1185, “An Act to Enhance Efforts to Use Locally Produced Food in Schools.”

      We all know eating locally is better for the environment. When the produce and animal products we consume come from our neighbors’ farms, the fossil fuels used to transport these goods is dramatically reduced thus lowering carbon emissions. But it is also better for us. When produce is sourced locally, it is fresher than produce that has been shipped from across the United States or even from other countries. When they are harvested, fruits and vegetables begin losing vitamins such as A, some B, C and E. Eating local produce means eating fresher, more flavorful and more nutritious foods.

      When we increase the percentage of local foods in our school, we increase the nutrients our children consume. When our children consume healthier, nutritious diets, they are better able to focus, learn and strive in schools.

      LD 1185 will encourage schools to source food for our children from local farms within our state. By creating an incentives program, schools will not be forces to make drastic changes but have an interest in improving the percentage of local produce over time. Schools across the state have been working hard in recent years to improve the nutritional content of the meals they serve, but we can make further improvements by increasing local content.

      I ask you for your unanimous support for LD1185. Thank you for your time and I would be happy to answer any questions.

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    Democratic Weekly Radio Address by Sen. Rebecca Millett (Cumberland): We should not brandish our schools with a “scarlet letter”

    Posted on April 13, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

    Audio link here.

    rebecca millettSchool pride.

    For many of us, regardless of how long ago it may have been since we graduated, we still hold on to the memories of high school pep rallies, athletic events, and school field trips. There were school mascots, school fight songs, and school colors–how many of us wore our school colors even when we weren’t at school?

    Perhaps it is through our school pride that we learn, as young adults, that we belong to something, we identify with something, a symbol of what and who is important to us.

    As the years pass, we now know that school is much more than the bricks and mortar. We may no longer remember the words to the school fight song, but we do remember the teacher who urged us to study a little longer; the principal who remembered our name as we passed in the hall; or the guidance counselor who gave us the courage to take a class that pushed our limits.

    Good Morning. This is State Senator Rebecca Millett of Cape Elizabeth.

    As the Senate Chair of the Education and Cultural Affairs committee, it is my job to think about what is important for education today as well as for the students of our future. And for a variety of reasons, we, as a state are at a crossroads.

    Just this week, the LePage Administration presented its newest school “reform” plan to our committee. The plan assigns a letter grade of “A” through “F” to Maine’s public schools.

    Democrats on the state’s education committee are deeply concerned by this approach. This sends the wrong signal to our schools, teachers, students, parents, and community.

    Issuing letter grades for schools is akin to brandishing them with a “scarlet letter.” It is shaming and stigmatizing–and, it seeks to embarrass students, teachers, and schools rather than motivate, incentivize, and actually help underperforming schools do better.

    Additionally, this simplistic and superficial grading system aimed at evaluating school performance cannot provide an accurate picture of what is taking place at a school. It could give a false sense that all is going well at a school, or it could wrongly shame a once-struggling school that is improving.

    Currently, the Department of Education has only provided raw data to struggling districts and expects them to devise and deploy improvement efforts with no additional funds. If this administration is truly interested in helping underperforming schools, they would provide the funds in addition to the data necessary for proper evaluation; they would support the efforts of our public school teachers and school principals.

    Right now, our state’s budget writing committee is working on crafting a budget for the next two years. The task ahead of them is daunting. Earlier this year, Governor LePage presented his proposed budget to them. And his budget continues to fall short of the state’s promise to fully fund education and places a heavier burden on local property taxes.

    Budgets are a reflection of our priorities and at a time when schools and teachers are already being asked to do more with less, we need to put our dollars behind our rhetoric. If we all agree that we are putting students first, then fund the classroom–don’t shame them for their performance.

    If a student doesn’t have a pencil, they can’t possibly pass the test. If a teacher lacks the tools needed to do their job, they can’t possibly improve classroom performance.

    We shouldn’t demand more of our teachers, more from our students, and not back them up. The mere threat of a failing grade, won’t magically eliminate the hurdles schools and teachers face: textbooks will still be scarce, school buildings will still be crumbling, and classroom sizes will still grow.

    We believe that our teachers and principals want to succeed and are eager to do the best job possible for our students. Now it’s up to us, as lawmakers, to encourage them as we all strive for innovation in our classrooms and the strengthening of our public schools.

    Thank you for listening. This is State Senator Rebecca Millett. Have a good weekend.

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    UPDATED: 62 (and Counting) Maine Municipalities, Schools Pass Resolutions Opposing LePage Biennual Budget (LR 1046)

    Posted on April 9, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , |

    In light of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee March 25 public hearing in Brewer regarding the municipal aid portion of LR 1046, here is a list of the 29 40 48 55 58 62 various towns, cities and as of April 2, multiple school committees and county superintendents associations around the state that have now passed resolutions opposing Governor LePage’s biannual budget.

    Among those who spoke at the AFA public hearing in Brewer:

    • Bangor finance director Debbie Cyr: “We understand the situation the state is faced with now is a culmination of past fiscal policy. But this proposal merely shifts the burden and ultimately the responsibility for state decisions to the municipalities.”
    • Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci: “It would require substantial layoffs across all departments.”
    • Brewer Mayor Kevin O’Connell (VIDEO): … is skeptical when (he) hears that legislators will not let the budget the governor is offering go forward as proposed. “We’re not buying it,” his statement says. “You need to stand by your promises. Don’t let revenue sharing go the way of school funding — a promise made but not kept.”

      Brewer would lose approximately $1.28 million, he said. (NOTE: More below on Brewer’s predicament. ~AP)

    • Brownville Town Manager Matthew Pineo: “Estimates the changes would raise the community’s property tax by $2.96 per $1,000 valuation.”
    • Madison’s part-time assessor (unnamed in article): “Municipal revenue sharing, which offsets municipal property taxes, has been around for three decades and taking it away is a big change.”
    • Town Councilor Mike Madore (VIDEO)
    • Easton Town Manager Jim Gardner: “We fought TABOR [Taxpayer Bill of Rights] and now we’re fighting our own governor.”
    • Town Manager Eugene Conlogue
    • Town Manager Dave Pearson

    Some more video from the public hearing (h/t Maine Dems):

    1. Brewer Firefighter Jason Gross: LePage’s budget will “destroy us”

    2. Pam Pierson of Orland

    A BDN article of note (4/1/13), as it illustrates the difficulties facing those mandated to submit time sensitive school budgets and highlights an especially vulnerable region’s immediate impact, due to Governor LePage’s zero revenue sharing proposal: Brewer school layoff notices to be sent May 1, but may be rescinded, officials say.

    witches

      “I think a lot of people will be upset on May 1st,” school committee chairwoman Janet McIntosh said, stressing that she is worried about teacher reactions.

      How many jobs are actually cut, if any, will be determined in the coming months as state legislators and the governor try to iron out a budget, she and Superintendent Daniel Lee said.

      While state legislators work on the budget, the school department is under statutory obligation to notify teachers and staff who may not have a job next year, Lee said.

      “Next week, you have a meeting to try and settle on where we’re at,” he said to the school board, explaining the two-step process to notify employees. “At that time, I’ll give you positions to eliminate. Between April 1 and the May meeting, we’ll determine who these people are.”

      Lee said that he expects the budget process in Augusta to go down to the last possible minute, which means that if things improve financially, “you can withdraw the letters.”

      One out of every nine positions, mostly teachers, may be eliminated if all the cuts and changes proposed in Augusta under Gov. Paul LePage’s biennial budget are put into place, Lee and school department business manager Gretchen Gardner said last month when they outlined the budget figures for fiscal year 2013-14 to the school board. At that time the shortfall was estimated at $1.4 million. That amount has increased to $1.55 million.

    Brewer High School, home of the Brewer Witches, serves at least a dozen area communities including Brewer, Holden, Eddington, Clifton, Dedham, Orrington, Amherst, Aurora, Osborn, Osborn Plt, Bradley and Glenburn.

    Now for the ever-growing list of communities:

    map

    (This list will be updated as more municipalities submit their passed resolutions to the Legislature. ~AP)

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