Legislative work goes on in Augusta

By Rep. Brian Hubbell

Before the distraction of the fall elections, I would like to share a summary of this past summer’s legislative activity with the Islander’s readers. Although the legislative session is adjourned, much work continues.

First, I am proud and honored to serve as chair of the state legislative commission on school funding. It is charged with recommending 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 percent 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.

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

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. 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 those virtual students reside, wreaking unanticipated havoc on established local school budgets.

I predict that extensive local distress from these unexpected new liabilities will refocus legislators’ interest on properly resolving what is no longer a mere hypothetical problem within their districts.

This summer and fall, I also am serving on the legislative commission on college affordability, which will be evaluating policies to allow more Mainers to attend and complete college without incurring crippling debt.

While our public colleges wrestle with administrative consolidation, our commission also intends to learn from effective programs of 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.

R&D bonds

This summer I also have been working with advocates from the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, The 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 nonprofit 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 4 and 5 will directly aid important work underway right now at the MDI Biological Lab and the Jackson Lab.

Ferry terminal

Last, I have continued discussions with the Maine Department of Transportation, the Maine Port Authority and many other individuals interested in 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.

Democrat Brian Hubbell of Bar Harbor represents Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor, part of Mount Desert and the Cranberry Isles. He can be reached at [email protected]