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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  • Maine Senate Takes Up EBT- TANF- GA Bills LDs 1829, 1822, 1820, 1842, 1815 and 1844 (VIDEOS)

    Posted on April 8, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

    (NOTE: All of these will be separated and written up over the rest of the week. In the meanwhile, for the sake of sharing quickly, here are all 44 video clips taken during the Monday afternoon/ evening second session in order of debate.)

    1. LD 1829, “An Act To Require the Department of Health and Human Services To Report Annually on Investigations and Prosecutions of False Claims Made under the MaineCare, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Food Supplement Programs”.
    ROLL CALL: 21 Yeas – 14 Nays

    HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven Introduces LD 1829 to Senate

    Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) Opposing LD 1829

    Sen. Colleen Lachowicz (D-Kennebec) Supporting LD 1829

    Asst Minority Leader Sen. Roger Katz Opposing LD 1829

    Sen. Geoff Gratwick (D-Penobscot) Supporting LD 1829

    2. LD 1822, “An Act To Increase Integrity in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program through Restriction of Expenditures”.
    ROLL CALL: 18 Yeas – 17 Nays

    HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven Introduces LD 1822 (OTP as amended by H-787) to Senate

    Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) Opposing LD 1822 as amended by H-787

    Sen. Colleen Lachowicz (D-Kennebec) Supporting H-787 amended LD 1822

    Asst Minority Leader Roger Katz (R-Kennebec) Opposing LD 1822 as amended by H-787

    Sen. John Patrick (D-Oxford) Offers SAS 505 to amend LD 1822

    Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) opposing LD 1822 SAS-505

    HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven (D-Androscoggin) Supporting LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505

    Sen. Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln) Supporting LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505 (PT 1)

    Asst Minority Leader Roger Katz (R-Kennebec) Opposing LD 1822 CAH 787, SAS 505

    Sen. Andre Cushing (R-Penobscot) Opposing LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505

    Sen. John Patrick (D-Oxford) Supporting LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505

    Senate Minority Leader Mike Thibodeau (R-Waldo) opposing LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505

    Sen. Colleen Lachowicz (D-Kennebec) Supporting LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505

    Sen. David Burns (R-Washington) opposing LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505

    Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook) Supporting LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505 (PT 1)

    Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook) concludes supporting remarks on LD 1822, SAS-505

    Sen. Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln) Supporting LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505 (PT 2)

    3. LD 1820, “An Act To Reduce Abuse of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program through Restriction of Electronic Benefits Transfers”.
    ROLL CALL: Yeas 20 – Nays 15

    HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven Introduces LD 1820 as amended to Senate

    Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) opposing LD 1820

    Sen. Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln) supporting LD 1820

    4. LD 1842, “An Act To Amend the Laws Governing the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program”.
    ROLL CALL: Yeas 20 – Nays 15

    HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven Introduces LD 1842 to Senate w/ ONTP committee recommendation

    Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) Opposing ONTP on LD 1842

    Sen. Eloise Vitelli (D-Sagadahoc) Supporting “ONTP” on LD 1842

    Asst Minority Leader Roger Katz (R-Kennebec) Opposing “ONTP” on LD 1842

    Sen. Colleen Lachowicz (D-Kennebec) Supporting “ONTP” on LD 1842

    Sen. Rebecca Millett (D-Cumberland) supporting ONTP on LD 1842

    Sen. Margaret Craven (D-Androscoggin) supporting “ONTP” on LD 1842

    Sen. Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln) Supporting “ONTP” on LD 1842

    5. LD 1815, “An Act To Require a Work Search for Job-ready Applicants for Benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program”.
    ROLL CALL: 20 Yeas – 15 Nays

    HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven Introduces LD 1815 (“ONTP”) to Senate

    Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) Opposing ONTP on LD 1815

    Sen. Ron Collins (R-York) Opposing ONTP on LD 1815

    Asst Minority Leader Roger Katz (R-Kennebec) opposing ONTP on LD 1815

    Asst Majority Leader Anne Haskell (D-Cumberland) supporting ONTP on LD 1815

    Sen. Margaret Craven (D-Androscoggin) supporting ONTP on LD 1815

    6. LD 1844, “An Act To Increase Local Responsibility for General Assistance”.
    ROLL CALL: 22 Yeas – 12 Nays

    HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven Introduces LD 1844 (ONTP) to Senate

    Sen. Geoff Gratwick (D-Penobscot) supporting LD 1844 ONTP recommendation

    Sen. John Cleveland (D-Androscoggin) supporting LD 1844 ONTP recommendation

    Sen. Doug Thomas (R-Somerset) opposing LD 1844 ONTP recommendation

    Sen. Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln) supporting LD 1844 ONTP recommendation

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    LD 1656, “An Act To Increase Safety for Victims of Domestic Violence” Has Public Hearing (Videos)

    Posted on January 13, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , |

    A public hearing before the Criminal Justice and Public Safety legislative committee was held this morning for LD 1656, “An Act to Increase Safety for Victims of Domestic Violence”, sponsored by Senator Emily Cain (D-Penobscot). The bill builds upon an earlier law sponsored by then-House Democratic Leader Cain requiring law enforcement officers to receive training to use evidence-based domestic violence risk assessments. That earlier law did not specify how the information obtained from the assessments could be used and LD 1656 is meant to clarify how law enforcement, judicial, and community groups share information obtained from the risk assessments in order to plan the most effective response when domestic violence occurs.

    A portion of her prepared testimony:

      Today I am here to present LD 1656, An Act to Increase Safety for Victims of Domestic Violence.

      As members of this committee, you know better than most that there is no quick fix, no magic wand, and no miracle cure for domestic violence.

      I sure wish there was. We all wish it.

      Last year, Maine police reported more than 5,500 incidents of domestic violence. State Police total numbers of homicides for 2013 are now available, and the facts are – again – scary and sad. According to the State Police, the number of homicides in 2013 totaled 24, which included one homicide committed in 2012, body discovered in 2013 and a double homicide. Of those 24 homicides, 11 or 46% were the result of domestic violence. In addition, domestic violence homicides were related to 4 additional deaths when murderers killed themselves or were killed by law enforcement.

      Since you and I have been engaged in this topic and this work to end domestic violence for many years, I bet you have the same reaction I do when you watch the news and hear about yet another incident of domestic violence. You take it personally, and wonder – what else could we have done? What else can we do? This has to stop.

      LD 1656 is not about a new approach to keeping victims of domestic violence safe. It does not create new policy changes. Today’s bill is about making the laws we have passed work better and as intended.

      The components in this bill are all improvements to existing laws that are basically working very well. These improvements are badly needed to increase safety for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, as well as to allow the policy, and the coordinated community response to domestic violence, to work the way the legislature intended when we passed laws in prior sessions. These are all changes to existing statute, and I have an additional amendment to the bill that has come to light in the past few weeks.

      The bill builds on current law with the following elements:

      Senator Emily Cain listens as CJPS committee member Rep. Corey Wilson (R-Augusta) asks a question.

      Senator Emily Cain listens as CJPS committee member Rep. Corey Wilson (R-Augusta) asks a question.

      • A judicial ruling in the Thomas case this past fall, related to the Address Confidentiality Act, provided a new interpretation of several phrases within that act in a way that left an unintended safety loophole. This bill repairs that loophole by clarifying the protection provided to victims at high risk by keeping their home addresses confidential after they have relocated for safety.

      • In 2012, we worked together on important changes to the bail code related to domestic violence. Some of the changes in bail procedures inadvertently left offenders who are now being detained in jail on the most serious domestic violence offenses and waiting for a judicial review of their bail, still able to call and terrorize their victims from the jail. This bill stops the opportunity for dangerous offenders to contact and terrorize their victims from jail before a no contact order can be put in place.

      • This bill integrates previously approved statutes related to domestic violence advocacy and sexual assault privilege with new legislation created in the last legislative session: LD 1493, An Act To Revise the Laws Concerning Criminal History Record Information and Intelligence and Investigative Information Act. This aspect of the bill makes certain that information sharing between criminal justice partners and advocates can continue just as it has been done for years to ensure good risk assessment and safety planning for victims.

      LD 1656 is the result of the hard work and conversations between many people, departments of state government, and organizations. The concerns about bail and advocate privilege have been discussed within the Attorney General’s office, Maine Department of Public Safety, Maine Commission on Domestic and Sexual Abuse, the Maine Domestic Violence Homicide Review Panel, The Maine Coalition of Domestic Violence, Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, The Wabanaki Women’s coalition and in the January CLAC meeting just last week. And the address confidentiality improvements came via the Secretary of State’s Office.

      The work to end domestic violence in Maine is all-encompassing and requires all of these entities, and more, to turn that vision into a reality, and I am grateful for their help.

    Senator Rebecca Millett was next to testify in support of the measure:

      “LD 1656 builds upon the good work done to reduce domestic violence in Maine. It strengthens the protection of victims and empowers police officers, victims’ advocates, and prosecutors to create the best plan to keep victims and families safe.”

    CJPS Committee Senate Chair, Senator Stan Gerzofsky (D-Brunswick) also rose to address his committee- a rare occurrence, but this bill which he cosponsored and issue as a whole is one that the senator feels very passionately and strongly about (clip to his full testimony here):

      “We keep working on bills, year and year, and trying to get it right. I think we’re doing it right, but I think there is room for improvement; there’s room to tie this stuff together better and to get more protection, and that’s what this bill is going to do.”

    Others who spoke in support of the bill included Julia Colpitts of Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, Attorney General Janet Mills, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, representatives from the Maine State Police and other advocates.

    A work session for the bill will be held later in the session.

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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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