Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Continuing agency briefings

More briefings this morning from agencies under the jurisdiction of the Education Committee.

James Page, Chancellor of the University of Maine System, reminded us that the University’s mission remains education, research & economic development, and service to Maine communities.  UMaine challenges are largely economic, similar to those facing other state public institutions. As education is the key to jobs and professions, University has special obligation to keep education affordable.

Maine graduates about 14,000 high school students each year.  Maine Development Foundation has determined that 230,000 Mainers, a staggering number, engaged in some sort of post-secondary education but never completed with any sort of degree.  In 2010, President Obama outlined a goal to have the US as a nation reach a college degree completion rate of 60%.  In order for Maine to meet its share of this goal, the University will have to engage at least as many Maine adults in addition to each year’s high school graduates.

Also, along with most other schools, the University facing the revolutionary challenges of on-line and distance learning.

So, to meet these three challenges – affordability, expanded adult education, and distance learning – the University is committing to partner better with other schools, businesses, and their communities.

We also heard from the Maine Public Broadcasting Network whose representatives included former state senator Karl Turner. In response to years of political squabbles over public financing of the state’s statutory obligation to cover the $2.6 million annual cost of MPBN’s infrastructure, Turner explained that MPBN hopes to engage in a ‘fee-for-service’ relationship with the state to more solidly account for this.

We then heard from the Children’s Growth Council, strong advocates for early childhood education initiatives which presently have notable private backing from the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine Early Learning Investment Group.  Early childhood education feels like an effort with legs this session.

In the afternoon, the Committee heard a briefing from the Jobs for Maine Graduates program, a non-profit public-private partnership. which serves about 4500 Maine students presumed to be at risk of disengaging from conventional schooling, connecting them with mentors often from local business communities, at a cost of about $1600 per student and remarkably achieving a higher high school graduation rate than the state average.

Essential Programs and Services ‘adequacy’ model and funding formula

We then got a report from the Maine Education Policy Research Institute (MEPRI) outlining their work plan as set by the Committee during the last legislature.  Among other things, MEPRI is due to report back to the Committee this year on teacher evaluation models, the impact of standards-based school programs.  The committee accepted the offer from Craig Mason to explain in more depth some of the background of the more ‘sensitive” aspects of ‘growth models’ relating to evaluation.  Previously filled by a range of education stakeholders, MEPRI’s advisory steering committee is vacant at this time because their work recently has been largely directed by the Education Committee.

From our committee analyst, we received a comprehensive report of the history and progress over the last year following on the Legislature’s Resolve to review the success and flaws of the Essential Programs and Services Funding Act.  Contracted from Lawrence Picus and Associates, this report is due April 1.

The Education Committee is scheduled to hold a public forum on the EPS law with Picus and Associates on February 7.

Cobscook Bay Tidal Energy Project

In the evening, I sat in with the Washington County legislative delegation to hear a presentation from Ocean Renewable Power Company on their Cobscook Bay tidal energy project which is licensed to produce 5 megawatts of grid-connected power. With the knowledge, expertise, and experience learned locally from this project, ORPC is poised to develop additional projects in Alaska and Chile using Maine-based skills.

The company attributes much of its success to early groundwork that they did building community support and the support from the state that they received in streamlining their permitting and aligning state and federal licensing requirements and providing leverage through the Maine Technology Institute and MTI’s Maine Technology Asset Fund.  The success of ORPC’s business model depends on Maine’s maintenance of Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard which the Governor hopes to eliminate.