BRUNSWICK — Supporting career and technical education programs for young people could go a long way toward ensuring a future for Maine that is both economically and environmentally sustainable, according to four candidates vying to represent the Midcoast in the Maine Senate Districts 23 and 24.

Sen. Eloise Vitelli, the Democrat incumbent, and Holly Kopp, a Republican, are running to represent District 23, which encompasses Sagadahoc County and Dresden. Rep Mattie Daughtry, a Democrat, will face Republican Brad Pattershall for the seat representing District 24, which includes Brunswick, Freeport, Harpswell, North Yarmouth and Pownal. 

The four candidates participated in a virtual forum hosted by the Southern Midcoast Chamber of Commerce on Friday. 

Vitelli, Kopp, Daughtry and Pattershall all expressed staunch support for making Region 10 Technical High School, the area’s vocational and technical school, a full-fledged, four-year comprehensive technical high school where students learn career and technical subjects alongside their traditional academic course load. 

Career and technical education has been heralded by some as a potential solution to some of Maine’s acute economic problems, such as the aging population and a skilled worker shortage. 

“We need to make sure we’re investing in CTE now,” and breaking down the barrier for students who want to pursue a vocational education, Kopp said. “Not everybody wants to go to a four-year college and that should OK.”

She added that the state needs to invest the money in these programs now instead of cutting needed improvements from the budget.

Students pursuing career and technical education will likely not have the same amount of debt hampering students coming away from a four-year college, Pattershall said, and it’s important to have men and women who want to enter the field right away. 

“There’s a stigma associated with so-called blue-collar jobs, but they’re taking care of our most fundamental needs when they graduate,” he said. 

The pendulum is starting to swing and people are realizing how hard it can be to pay bills in this era of COVID-19, he added, and technical education can be a viable alternative. If elected, he would fight to not limit funding for it, he said. 

Daughtry agreed, citing her support for LD 1947, legislation that would allow the Maine Governmental Facilities Authority to issue and use $20 million for CTE centers and regions to make facility and equipment upgrades. 

It’s also important to make sure that career and technical education matches with the careers of the future, Daughtry said, helping to create a “pipeline” for skilled workers who can help combat climate change. 

“It’s not a climate change issue anymore, it’s a climate crisis,” she said, and “we have a limited window to turn this around.”  

“Climate change is real, it’s happening,” Vitelli agreed, adding that Maine needs to support “green jobs” that use sustainable practices but also help further the state’s energy goals. 

Last month, the Maine Public Utilities Commission approved 17 renewable energy projects for long-term contracts — the largest procurement of renewable energy in the state’s history. These procurements are already promised to promote 450 new green construction jobs, Vitelli said, and if reelected she is committed to continuing to move the state in that direction. 

“We need to make this a priority in our state,” Kopp said.

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