Weekly Radio Address: Sen. Johnson says: Just as graduation marks the completion of one chapter and the beginning of the next, there is always more work to do to strengthen education in Maine.
It’s that time again: another school year has come to a close. As graduating seniors don their caps and gowns and say goodbye to their schools, it is a good time to reflect on accomplishments and achievements, and work yet to be done.
Good morning, this is State Senator Chris Johnson of Somerville.
Graduating students are not the only ones who have the chance to reflect on their achievements. This is also a good opportunity for lawmakers to look at what we have accomplished in the past two years.
We passed a two-year budget that restores funding to education and provides an additional $35 million for our schools.
Our budget also creates a path for the state to fulfil its commitment to fully fund 55 percent of K-12 education.
But we know education begins well before the first day of Kindergarten, so our budget also provides $1.3 million for early childhood education programs like Head Start.
Head Start is a wonderful program, but it isn’t available for every child and unfortunately neither is pre-school. Currently, a little more than half of the school districts in Maine offer a pre-K program, and only one-third of Maine’s four-year-olds are enrolled in one.
Studies show that early childhood education leads to stronger academic achievement, educational attainment, employment, and health. Investing in our children when they are young is the best way to ensure their future success.
To give more children the opportunity pre-K provides, we passed a law to provide funding to school districts who want to start a voluntary pre-K program.
While pre-K may not be for every family or every child, no one should be excluded from this important opportunity because of a lack of access.
Preschool helps prepare children for Kindergarten so that they come to school ready to learn.
But even the best preparation won’t help if a child is hungry, and far too many Maine children are. One in five Maine kids is now food insecure, meaning they don’t always know how or when they will get their next meal.
More than 84,000 students qualify for free and reduced-price school meals through the National School Lunch Program, but right now only one sixth of them have access to a summer food program.
This year, the Legislature passed a law to increase access to summer food programs so more children will have a nutritious meal throughout the year, not just during the school year.
We also passed a law to establish a taskforce to explore different ways to increase access to food for children, including leveraging millions of dollars in federal funding available to provide school breakfast and lunch to students. The federal dollars Maine is leaving on the table, literally means meals not provided to children.
At a time when more families are struggling to make ends meet and more children are hungry, it is irresponsible and unconscionable not to do everything we can to reduce student hunger.
These new laws are good first steps.
But just as graduation marks the completion of one chapter and the beginning of the next, there is always more work to do to strengthen education in Maine.
Most notably, Governor LePage’s second round of school grades continued to shame and blame our schools rather than offering any solutions to address the underlying problems.
Despite the challenges, I am optimistic about the future of education in Maine. Just as our dedicated teachers and administrators and supportive communities work together to help students overcome challenges to ensure Maine children have the opportunities they need to be successful, it is our job as legislators and communities to help and support our schools become the best they can be in preparing our children for success in life.
Thank you for listening. This is State Senator Chris Johnson of Somerville. Have a great weekend, and if you’re in the class of 2014 – congratulations!