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This week’s edition!

Important changes as we begin the new school year

Guest Column

By Sen. Ned Claxton

Another Maine summer has come and gone, and that means one thing – kids are back at school!

Though we all wish students were heading back to the classroom under better circumstances, I am thankful to all those who have and continue to work hard to ensure that everyone can learn, teach and excel while staying healthy. It won’t be an easy school year, but I’m confident that we can do it.

During the past session in the Legislature, we took some important steps to ensure all Maine children can learn and grow to their fullest potential. I wanted to use this space to share some of those changes that you should be aware of.

First, we took a big step in our fight to address child hunger in Maine. No child should ever go hungry, but today, nearly 1 in 6 Maine children are food insecure. This is completely unacceptable. We took action, and in the bipartisan biennial budget that we passed earlier this year, we made all school meals free for every student.


Sen. Ned Claxton (D-Androscoggin), Maine District 20, Auburn, Mechanic Falls, Minot, New Gloucester, and Poland (Photo courtesy of Sen. Claxton)

Traditionally, only certain students qualified for free or reduced lunches through the National School Lunch Program. While this has certainly helped generations of students, many still fall through the cracks. Certain students may be right above the cutoff for qualifying, yet still face challenging financial situations at home. Other students who do qualify for meals may not always get them.

Whether it be self-perceived or real, children who receive free meals often feel ashamed or are bullied because of it. Some even choose to go hungry just so they won’t feel humiliated. By making these meals free for everyone, we can cover those students who might be just beyond qualifying and in addition, we’ll remove the stigma around free meals.

Though these meals will be free for everyone, school districts are still asking families to fill out paperwork that would qualify them for these free meals. This is a federal requirement in order for schools to collect funds needed to help pay for these meals. To find the forms, visit http://bitly.ws/giEA.

If you need assistance or have questions with verification reports or requirements, you can contact the Department’s Child Nutrition Specialist David Hartley at david.hartley@maine.gov or 624-6878.

At the same time, we took steps to increase the amount of Maine-grown food in our schools. We passed a law to build on a current program that reimburses schools for purchasing local food, by expanding the criteria for food that qualifies beyond just produce, and by increasing the amount schools can be reimbursed for. Not only will this get more nutritious foods in our schools, but the program supports our farmers by giving them additional customers. I’m glad we could support this vital industry while benefitting kids at the same time.

Additionally, we made a long overdue change in the way our public schools are funded. Seventeen years ago, Maine voters passed a referendum requiring that the state cover 55 percent of the cost of public education. Since then, state government has never reached that level of funding, leaving municipalities to pick up the tab, consequently contributing toward the increasing property taxes folks have faced for years now. This finally changed, and for the first time ever Maine will cover the full 55 percent of K-12 public education costs. This will help ensure schools have the resources students and educators need to thrive, while lessening the burden on property taxpayers.

At the end of the day, these changes will help our kids learn, grow and succeed. They are our future, and I will continue to prioritize our public education system to ensure that we are supporting them to the best of our ability and working to ensure Maine’s future generations will be ready to lead us.

You can always send me an email at Ned.Claxton@legislature.maine.gov or call my office at 287-1515.

Sen. Ned Claxton (D-Androscoggin) represents Maine Senate District 20, which includes Auburn, Mechanic Falls, Minot, New Gloucester, and Poland.

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