This April, Gov. Janet Mills signed the supplemental budget into law, just one day after both chambers of the Legislature voted to enact it. This budget contains many measures that will do a lot of good for Maine people. As a former educator and current chair of the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, I can’t help but be excited about what this budget does for Maine’s education systems. From investing in our child care programs to fully funding free school meals, there’s a lot to celebrate.

Joe Rafferty Courtesy photo

In 2004, Maine voters passed a referendum to have the state fund 55 percent of public K-12 education. Despite that, it wasn’t until last year that the Legislature ensured that the state would fulfill its obligation. It was definitely a long time coming. Because we didn’t want this to be a short-term fix, we created the Education Rainy Day Fund with this year’s budget. This fund will make sure that the 55 percent commitment does not lapse, and that the state continues its commitment for the foreseeable future.

Last session, Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, spearheaded an initiative to provide free school meals to all Maine students. But just like the state’s obligation to public school funding, we didn’t want this to be a short-lived program either. Therefore, this budget provides nearly $27 million in ongoing General Fund dollars, to be combined with the $10 million previously set aside by the governor and Legislature, to fully fund universal free meals in public schools in Maine. I am grateful to my legislative colleagues for recognizing just how important this is for our students. Ensuring no kid is hungry in school is crucial in helping them focus on learning.

This budget won’t just help students, though. It will help educators and parents, too. For educators, a bill sponsored by Rep. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, will make sure that teachers are fairly compensated, as they should be, if they have taken the time to become national board-certified teachers. It takes time and commitment to receive these certifications, and it’s only right that teachers are paid for putting this work in and for expanding their knowledge and expertise.

Our child care system has needed attention for a while, but the pandemic only made this problem worse. Over the past few months, I have heard from countless parents on the issue of child care in Maine and how it has been affecting them. The Legislature heard all of you, and as a result, this budget funds a bill sponsored by Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, that increases pay for child care workers and early childhood educators to help fill the current shortage and allow child care centers to open more slots. While there is more work to be done to help bolster our child care systems, this is one step in a positive direction.

It brings me a lot of pride and joy to be able to report that we worked with the Maine Community College System to offer free tuition for the high school graduating classes of 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023. For students who are looking to receive higher education in Maine, this program could help them save thousands of dollars in education costs and propel them into our workforce.

We also know that community college or college in general isn’t the right path for every student or every career. That’s why this budget includes a $1.6 million appropriation to help our existing career and technical centers. I have always been a staunch advocate for career and technical training, and am so pleased to see where this investment will take us and our students.

As always, if you or your family need help finding resources, please visit 211maine.org, dial 2-1-1, or reach out to my office at any time. You can send me an email [email protected] or reach me by phone at 207-590-9902. You can also reach my office at 207-287-1515. If you want to stay even more up to date on what we’re working on in Augusta, sign up for my newsletter at mainesenate.org.

Joseph Rafferty is a member of the Maine State Senate representing District 34, Acton, Kennebunk, Lebanon, Moody, North Berwick, Wells, West Lebanon and part of Berwick. He can be reached at [email protected]

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