On the last day of legislative session last spring, a group of lawmakers blocked the Legislature from funding a comprehensive, powerful bond package that included $5 million to support career and technical education (CTE) in Maine. And in a special session in August, when we had a chance to vote again on these important investments, the same lawmakers stood in the way, preventing us from giving Mainers a chance to weigh in on their own ballots in November.
Career and technical education in Maine needs and deserves more funding. These attempts to delay that funding will not deter those of us in the Legislature who understand the importance of CTE, and we will keep looking for alternate solutions.
Career and technical education programs in Maine train thousands of our young people for jobs in the industries we need most. Education is not one size fits all, and CTE programs provide many Maine students with skills and a path toward good-paying jobs with opportunities for growth. The result is a stronger workforce in Maine and improved services in construction, engineering, health care and everything in between.
The programs available through CTE centers are vital to educating Mainers and growing our workforce and economy, but the money we’re investing in them does not match the value they add. Our CTE centers need equipment upgrades and capital improvements to better serve our students and communities, and they need more funding for their teachers and programs, but they are not getting those funds. It has been 21 years since CTE was included in a bond package, and the funds they receive through the budget process are just not sufficient.
Many CTE centers are asking specifically for equipment upgrades so that they can train students on the equipment currently being used in the industry they seek to enter. For example, Caribou is hoping for a modern tractor for their agricultural program. CTE is also looking to repair their buildings, fund new programs and pay teachers commensurate with their academic counterparts.
Last year, I submitted a bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by 111 of my colleagues, that proposed a $40 million bond for career and technical education. Instead of considering that bond, the Legislature voted on two bond packages that included CTE within them. While those two bond packages failed, my bill is still alive. It was carried over to be considered in the second session of the Legislature, and I hope my colleagues will change their votes. But if they do not, there are other avenues we can take.
I have proposed a new bill to be considered next session that would explore a different bonding option for CTE. There are a variety of state offices that have the authority to bond for projects or programs in Maine. We could achieve funding for capital improvements of CTE buildings and equipment through one of these alternate bond opportunities. The Legislative Council is meeting at the end of October to decide which bill submissions will be approved for our consideration next session, and I am hopeful this idea will be one of them.
A bill from Sen. James Dill, D-Old Town, to increase funding for CTE programs was also carried over from last session and will be considered when we reconvene. That bill would directly increase the state revenue allocated toward CTE programs. If we are able to secure programming funds through Dill’s bill and capital improvements funds through mine, we’ll be well on our way to getting CTE the funding it needs.
We’re lucky that we have 27 CTE centers in Maine that serve more than 8,000 high school students and many more in adult education programs. These programs boast higher than average graduation rates and train students for important jobs that spur our economy. These programs invest in Maine, and it’s time we invest in them.
Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, is the Assistant House Majority Leader.