Legislative report: Summer 2014

14 September 2014

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Before the distraction of the fall elections, here is a summary of this past summer’s legislative activity.  Although the legislative session is adjourned, much work continues since my last report to you in May.

Leading improvements to Maine’s school funding model

First, I am proud and honored to have been appointed this summer to chair the state legislative commission on school funding.  Our commission is charged with recommending targeted improvements to the state’s school funding model.  Our goals are to ensure adequate relative funding for communities with significant numbers of economically-disadvantaged students, to expand Maine’s capacity for effective early education, and to support more time for professional improvement and collaboration among teachers as we ramp up Maine’s educational expectations.

We also intend to solidify the state’s legal commitment toward consistently funding special education which was a component of the state’s original citizen-initiated mandate to meet 55% of the calculated costs of education. This particularly concerns our local district because partial special education reimbursement is the only form of state subsidy that our schools receive.

Distress from costs of charter school expansion

With the opening this month of a controversial virtual school, the unresolved problem of funding for charter schools is rising again to lawmakers’ attention.

As you know, because of the unwarranted additional burden that state-approved charter schools place on local school district budgets, in both of our legislative sessions I advanced initiatives which sought to obligate the state to cover the full cost of charter schools.

Regrettably, the first bill was vetoed by the Governor and the second, to my great disappointment, became a casualty to partisan suspicion in the final days of our closing session last April.

Over the past two years, the funding pain from state-approved brick and mortar charter schools has been somewhat localized and easy for legislators from other areas to ignore.

However, just this month, the ‘Connections Academy’ virtual charter school opened its software doors to 281 students statewide and sent full tuition invoices to the 86 local school districts in which their virtual students are physically resident, wreaking unanticipated havoc on established local school budgets.

I predict that extensive local distress from these unexpected new liabilities will re-focus legislators’ interest in properly resolving what is no longer merely a hypothetical problem within their districts.

College affordability

This summer and fall I am also serving on the Legislative Commission on College Affordability which is evaluating policies to allow more Mainers to attend and complete college without incurring crippling debt.

Just as post-secondary education is becoming increasingly indispensable to most future careers, the structural gap of unmet financial need is widening between the average student’s resources and their net college costs, even after qualifying for all available aid.

At the same time, our state has curtailed allocations to public colleges causing them both to raise tuition beyond the rate of inflation and to cut programs as a consequence of declining enrollment.

While our public colleges wrestle with administrative consolidation, our commission intends also to learn from effective programs from other states. We will make recommendations to the next legislature in December.

Thank you to the many of you who have responded with personal stories about the financial challenges of college.  They very much help our commission to frame the issues.

Advancing Maine’s capacity for research and development

This summer I have also been working with advocates from the Chamber of Commerce, the MDI Bio Lab, Jackson Lab, and College of the Atlantic to advocate comprehensively for the package of research and development bond questions that voters will consider on the November ballot.

With these R&D bonds, Maine has a rare opportunity to leverage our growing capacity for critical scientific research into a substantial expansion of jobs and economic growth.

With a critical mass of growing, experienced, and nimble non-profit research facilities — many of which distinguish our local district — Maine is well positioned to lead in support of the newest round of significant scientific research projects. With modest public partnership, our state’s future in this area can be bright.

I urge voters to support the strategic package of bonds in November.  In particular please be aware that, in addition to augmenting the state’s larger economic and educational goals, Bond Questions Four and Five will directly aid important work underway right now at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory and the Jackson Lab

Retaining the ferry terminal

Last, I have continued discussions with the Maine Department of Transportation, the Maine Port Authority, and many other interested individuals facilitating the state’s purchase of the Bar Harbor ferry terminal from the Canadian Government. I am confident that we are finding a way to retain public ownership of this critically important property and its statewide benefit.

I remain grateful to serve as your state representative.  Please continue to contact me with your concerns at RepBrian.Hubbell@legislature.maine.gov

With gratitude,

Representative Brian Hubbell,
Maine House District 35
Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor, Cranberry Isles, Mount Desert
66 Park Street, Bar Harbor, ME 04609
(800) 423-2900 (Augusta)
288-3947 (home)

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