June 23, 2018
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For a strong economic future, education must be forefront

Courtesy photo | BDN
Courtesy photo | BDN
Rep. Victoria Kornfield, D-Bangor.
By Victoria Kornfield, Special to the BDN

Our state’s future demands that we provide students with the tools they need to move forward. Our ability to do that depends on how well we support our system of education in Maine.

At the start of the legislative session, Democrats laid out the legislative priorities of strengthening the economy and the middle class. Supporting public education is key to those goals.

I’m a retired teacher, and I know that education is the cornerstone of a strong economy. I fought for quality education in Maine during the decades that I worked as a high school English teacher and continue to do so now as a lawmaker and member of the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.

With students returning to school, the impact of today’s tough economic times on Maine schools will become more apparent. This is why it was so important that the Legislature passed its bipartisan compromise budget that restored much of the education funding cut in Gov. Paul LePage’s original proposal.

Other Democrats and I worked to prevent the harm that the governor’s budget would have caused to our public schools, and we put the state on track to paying 55 percent of the costs of education as determined by voters.

As with any venture, the first step must be successful for the rest to follow. That’s why I was proud to join legislators in providing funding for Head Start. The brain development that takes place in children’s earliest years profoundly affects their future. For our state to succeed, we must make sure that every Maine child has an opportunity for success.

A recent report shows just how important quality early learning is to our prosperity. The report , “ Path to a Better Future: The Fiscal Payoff of Investment in Early Childhood in Maine,” by University of Maine economist Philip Trostel, found a 7.5 percent return on investment and that high-quality preschool education for a low-income child saves taxpayers an average of $125,400 over the child’s lifetime.

It is critical that we support our public schools, regardless of who’s in the administration and the political winds of the moment.

Lawmakers sent a strong message when we rejected Gov. Paul LePage’s school takeover bill based on his flawed grading system. This bill would have pushed schools to abandon successful and original programs to adhere to the governor’s standards. With schools’ ratings being subject to changing administrations, the bill would have also injected politics into something sacred — our system of education.

We will continue fighting to make Maine’s charter school funding process fairer to both those schools and our community public schools. The current system funds charter schools at the expense of nearby public schools. The governor vetoed a bill that would address this problem, a measure that won the unanimous support of the Education Committee. Unfortunately lawmakers were unable to override this veto, but a new session will provide new opportunities.

A modern economy needs a modern workforce. That was the idea behind the broad skills gap legislation of the Joint Select Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future. The measures include new training programs, ways to remove the backlogs of community college applications, an internship-matching program to help workers get the experience needed for high-wage jobs and ways to meet the demand for highly skilled workers with immigrants who have those skill sets.

We also passed bills to promote educational tax credit opportunities, prevent youth suicide and increase our schools’ energy efficiency.

These are just some of the accomplishments of this past legislative session. Our work is an indicator of the good we can accomplish while putting Maine on the path to a strong future.

Rep. Victoria Kornfield, D-Bangor, is serving her first term in the Maine State House of Representatives. A member of the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, she is a retired educator who taught English at Bangor High School for 30 years.

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