INACCURATE VETO LETTER LEADS REPUBLICAN SENATORS TO YET ANOTHER YO-YO VOTE
Unanimous support for truancy bill flips in favor of governor’s erroneous veto letter
AUGUSTA – In a party line vote of 18 – 16, Senate Republicans sustained Gov. LePage’s veto on a measure aimed at reducing chronic absence from school.
The bill, LD 311, “An Act To Improve Attendance at Public Elementary Schools,” amended in committee, would have extended truancy laws for five and six year olds who are enrolled in Kindergarten or First Grade by their parents.
In his veto letter (LD 311 Veto ) Gov. LePage said the bill would “interfere with the rights of parents to decide when their children are ready for school.” However, the bill does not lower the minimum age of enrollment or attendance nor does it impact a parent’s right to choose when their child starts school. In fact, the bill only applies to children whose parents have already enrolled their five and six year olds, and even allows a 45-day grace period for parents to reconsider enrollment.
“Unlike truant high schoolers, truant kids in Kindergarten and First Grade are not independently deciding to skip school. Rather, their absence is an indication of trouble on the homefront,” said Democratic Senator Nate Libby of Lewiston, the bill’s sponsor. “Many of these children are suffering from unengaged parents and for these kids, going to school every day is the only place where they’re going to get encouragement, learn to read, or get a hot meal or two. By allowing truancy officers to check in on and work with students and families, they can problem-solve the underlying issues causing chronic absence.”
The measure received unanimous bipartisan support from the state’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee and passed “under the hammer” in both the House and Senate.
“In the Education Committee, we understand the critical role of early education and the need to reduce the achievement gap in the state,” said Democratic State Senator Rebecca Millett of Cape Elizabeth. “The fact is, the achievement gap has real consequences. For example, it lowers lifetime wages and produces higher rates of incarceration. This bill was one way to help us address the achievement gap.”
According to Senator Libby, the Lewiston school department has struggled with how best to address chronic absence among five and six year olds. Without being able to deploy truancy officers, some children are missing upwards of 30 days–which according to Senator Libby’s testimony during the public hearing, puts young students “at a severe disadvantage that is in many case, impossible to make up.”
Last year in Lewiston, 20 percent of pre-K and 14 percent of first graders were chronically absent.
The measure makes no changes to students who are home-schooled or attend a private or alternative school. Senator Libby worked with the committee to further clarify that intent by including language that explicitly states the proposed law only applies to five and six year old children who are enrolled in school.
“A parent’s right to make decisions about student attendance must be preserved–and remains preserved in this bill,” added Sen. Libby.
During the public hearing in the state’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, the Assistant Superintendent of Lewiston Schools, Maine School Management Association, and the Maine Educational Association all testified in support of the measure.
According to the Attendance Works research bank, students who missed 10 percent of school days in kindergarten and first grade were four times more likely not to be proficient in reading in math in third grade. And, 50 percent of students who were chronically absent for just two years would eventually drop out of school.
This is the ninth veto sustained by the Senate where a majority of Senate Republicans flipped from their original support of a measure.
Gov. LePage has vetoed 26 bills this session. Of those vetoed bills, 22 were unanimously reported out of committee with bipartisan support.
The bill is now dead.