Lawmakers are considering a proposal to create a temporary commission to improve the educational experience for New Mainers, many of whom face significant language, housing and health care challenges in their newly adopted state.

The 16-member panel would strive to build on the lessons learned by communities with sizable New Mainer populations, such as Portland and Lewiston, to help those like Sanford, which is only now seeing its first wave of newcomers, said House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland.

Emily Hall Greeley does an English language assessment with Stela Solani Ndombasi Mvemba at King Middle School in 2019. The 5-year-old girl is being processed and assessed by Portland Public Schools. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“Maine has seen an uptick in the number of asylum seekers, refugees, and immigrants coming to our great state,” Talbot Ross said. “This bill is an attempt to get the stakeholders together to better understand ways public schools can help meet the needs of these populations.”

Talbot Ross, who sponsored L.D. 1702, said the New Mainers arriving in our schools from Afghanistan, Angola, Congo, Iraq and South America will be sitting next to our own students, in our own classrooms, and need Maine’s help to join the next generation of Maine leaders.

Maine educators need support to help these students overcome their many challenges, she said.

“Many are leaving unstable and unsafe environments, fleeing war or unrest and they come here seeking peace and freedom,” she said. “Their journey may be full of trauma: the leaving of your homeland, the often harrowing journey itself, and the experience you may have along the way.”


Some school districts have been meeting the needs of new immigrants for years, Talbot Ross said.

“We can learn from school districts like Portland and Lewiston, who have established an understanding of what more we can and should be doing,” Talbott Ross said. “But we should also be looking to Sanford. They need our assistance.”

Sanford is expecting about 120 newly arrived immigrant, refugee, and asylum seekers in their public school classrooms this fall, Talbott Ross said, which could cost the district up to $1.2 million a year to assimilate. Sanford is a very good example of why this commission is necessary, she said.

“There are barriers that Sanford is going to have to take on in a very short amount of time,” Talbott Ross said. “A commission like this, we are hoping, would be beneficial to Sanford as they tackle (a challenge) that quite frankly, the institution is not prepared to take on.”

Maine Education Association Director of Training Mallory Cook said Maine is not providing an equitable education for New Mainers. The system is using traditional education to meet the needs of an untraditional group, she said. It is the system, not the students, that is falling short, she said.

In the 2021-22 school year, 49.3 percent of multilingual learners were below or well below the state average in English, 61.2 percent were below or well below the state average in math, and 96.5 percent were below or well below the state average in science, Cook said.


“These numbers show there is work to be done,” Cook said. “There are districts in our state that have dedicated time and resources to meeting the needs of our multilingual learners and their expertise will be of great value as we seek to expand those supports across our state.”

The commission would review the educational barriers facing asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants who resettle in Maine after talking with New Mainer students, their families, host community leaders, and teachers and administrators who work with them.

The commission would have to report its findings to the Legislature by the end of the year. That isn’t much time, but the quick turnaround would allow lawmakers to introduce possible legislation that would go into effect before the start of the 2024-25 school year, Talbot Ross said.

Committee members would include a New Mainer student and parent, a K-12 and adult education teacher, a homeless-student specialist, a school social worker, an immigration lawyer, housing and welfare specialists, health officials, four lawmakers, and the state education commissioner.

Ruben Torres of the Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition commended the proposed commission for its inclusive nature, mandating input from the New Mainer community itself. He said that promotes active engagement and ensures its recommendations are rooted in lived experience.

“Investing in this commission is an investment in the future of our state and the success of individuals that contribute to our communities, now and in the future,” Torres said. It “affirms our commitment to inclusive high-quality education for all, regardless of background or immigration status.”

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