Democratic Weekly Address: Millett says, 'To continue supporting education, we must do more'
With the onset of September, it’s back-to-school time in towns all across our great state.
Good morning. This is State Senator Rebecca Millett. As a parent of two high school students, a member of the Legislature’s Education Committee and a former school board member, I know the importance of a commitment to education.
Good schools, good teachers and supportive communities are crucial to our children’s future.
From a child’s first day in preschool to the pursuit of higher education, we owe it to the next generation to ensure that every Maine boy, girl and young adult is given the opportunity to succeed with a strong foundation of public education.
During a contentious budget season this year, the Legislature supported education for Mainers of all ages. We started with $1 million of new investments in Head Start, to ensure our youngest students are ready to begin their educations. Critically, we increased the state’s contribution to K-12 schools by $40 million annually.
That’s money to pay teacher’s salaries, provide the crucial technology needed for the 21st century classroom, and so much more.
Increasingly, a college degree is every bit as important as a high school diploma. So we also expanded the Maine State Grant Program by $10 million. That’s money that goes directly into scholarships to help Maine college students pay for their schooling.
The University of Maine System and our community colleges will also see a $28 million increase in state funding, to support the critical academic and job-training work that happens at those fourteen campuses every day.
These are all great steps toward ensuring our students receive the best education we can provide. But there’s still so much more work to be done.
Voters in 2004 loudly and clearly supported a new requirement that the state fund 55 percent of local education costs. But that threshold has never been met. At the same time, the state has slashed revenue sharing, which distributes some income and sales tax revenue back into local services.
The effect of this double-whammy on our local schools is obvious. We all have heard stories of hardworking teachers buying classroom supplies out of their own pockets because there isn’t enough money in their budgets to pay for all that they need.
The effect of the squeeze may vary from district to district but, to be blunt, the state simply must do more to meet its obligations to investing in education .
But don’t just take it from me. In July, Moody’s Investor Services criticized Maine for failing to pay its education bills.
In its critique, Moody’s said that because we haven’t hit the fifty-five percent threshold required by law, our towns and cities “will continue to face a choice between cutting services or increasing local property taxes.” They also noted that “these local units are especially constrained because property taxes are already subject to a statewide limit.”
I’m proud of the work we did this year to support our schools and students. But as long as local districts are struggling to provide the very best education possible to the next generation of Mainers, there is still much more work to be done.
I’m State Senator Rebecca Millett. Thanks for listening.