Rep. Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, photographed at a hearing last year, is sponsoring a bill that would provide $20 million to career and technical education programs. Joe Phelan/Kenebec Journal

BIDDEFORD — When State Rep. Ryan Fecteau was going door-to-door around Biddeford, drumming up support for his reelection to the Maine House of Representatives in 2018, he was struck by the number of people complaining they couldn’t find an electrician or plumber to hire.

From those comments, the Democratic representative said he realized “there a massive need for skilled labor in Biddeford.” And, he said, “if there’s a need there, there’s a need elsewhere,” which is why Fecteau is now sponsoring his second piece of legislation to provide funds for the state’s 27 career and technology schools around the state.

Fecteau tried to address the issue last year, with a $40 million bond for career and technical education that was carried over to be considered this session.

Meanwhile, he has more recently submitted legislation, LD 1947, that would allow the Maine Governmental Facilities Authority to issue and use $20 million for CTE centers and regions.

The last time the state provided funds for CTE centers was in 1998, Fecteau said, when a bond for $5 million was approved.

His current bill, he said, would provide funds to CTE schools across the state, like the one in Biddeford that serves high school students from Biddeford and Old Orchard Beach high schools and Thornton Academy in Saco. The money could be used for making capital improvements to facilities, like fixing leaky roofs, replacing windows and other needs. It will also be directed to purchasing new equipment to keep up with the current standards.

These schools, which serve 8,000 high school students and many more in adult education programs, are “doing really important work without a lot of resources,” Fecteau said.

A public hearing was held in the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee on a snowy Thursday on Feb. 6. Not all who wanted to speak braved the road to Augusta. Some, like the Biddeford Regional Center of Technology Director Paulette Bonneau, submitted written testimony.

She said she supports both LD 1947 as well as LD 2022, legislation sponsored by Sen. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, that would authorize the commissioner of education to make a $4 million general fund appropriation toward CTE.

“I am asking you to support these important infrastructure bills before the Maine Legislature that would dramatically improve our ability to add new programs and improve instruction and equipment training for our students and our future employees,” she told committee members.

“The need for state-of-the-art equipment and technology is paramount to Maine generating a ‘highly skilled’ workforce. We cannot train our people on obsolete equipment in outdated facilities,” Bonneau said.

With new programs at the BRCOT, like a plumbing and HVAC program and in health occupations, enrollment is up 22 percent from the prior year, she said. Bonneau said bond funds could be used for a new roof, new windows, a new ventilation system and much more.

The construction firm CIANBRO, based in Pittsfield, also submitted testimony in favor of both bills, stating that CTE education is vital to providing a much needed skilled workforce throughout the state.

“The workforce shortage issues, in Maine and across the country, are at epidemic levels,” according to the testimony. “Every industry is facing the same dilemma; not enough people to fill jobs needed to grow the economy. Our vocational high schools are a valuable resource in helping alleviate this problem. In many cases, the students are leaving these programs ready to enter the workforce, where they will have the opportunity to continue to improve their skills on the job; advance their respective careers thru structured training and credentialing offered by their employer; or choose to pursue additional post high school education outside of the workplace. Regardless of what paths these young people travel, what CTE programming offers its students is a transformational opportunity to engage and embrace a career of life-long learning. We simply could not ask for better teammates in our quest to develop a safer, more productive industry.”

Jason Stutheit, president of DP Porter, Inc., of Hermon who testified on behalf of Associated Builders and Contractors, made similar points. He stressed the importance of CTE schools in ending Maine’s workforce shortage.

“ABC believes that CTE is a core element in solving our state’s workforce shortage,” he said. “CTE programs are a pipeline for new workers and a center for providing Maine kids with skills that will lead to good paying jobs. In order to ensure that these skills are marketable to employers like DP Porter and other ABC member companies we must make sure that students have up to date equipment to train on.”

“It is no secret that Maine has a workforce shortage,” Stutheit said. “We have far too many jobs available and not enough trained employees to take them. Let’s take bold steps to both move Maine’s economy forward and train Maine students in skills that will last a lifetime.”

LD 1947 provides for a state facilities bond, which Fecteau said doesn’t need to go out to voters and could be passed by a simple majority of both the House and the Senate.

Fecteau said he’s hopeful his bill will pass and said “I think there’s been a lot of support on both sides of the aisle. … I think the public is in favor of CTE schools,” he added. “Now the Legislature has to do its job and get it done.”

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