Gov. Mills touts her education agenda, including free community college tuition

Gov. Janet Mills delivers the Maine State of the State address on Feb. 10, 2022.
Gov. Janet Mills delivers the Maine State of the State address on Feb. 10, 2022.(WABI)
Published: Feb. 12, 2022 at 7:21 AM EST
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AUGUSTA, Maine (WMTW) - The day after her State of the State address before the full Maine legislature, Democratic Gov. Janet Mills was selling her education agenda, including tens of millions of dollars in new spending to contain the cost of college education and create new programs for Pre-K through 12th-grade public schools.

On the front burner is her $20 million proposal to offer Maine high school graduates free tuition at any of the state’s seven community colleges, where 15,000 students are pursuing one-year certificates and two-year associate’s degrees.

Mills is promising members of the classes of 2020 through 2023 who enroll full-time this fall or next the state will pay the annual $3,800 in tuition and fees.

On Friday, Mills visited the campus of Central Maine Community College, in Auburn, and students enrolled in the building, construction and technology program who are learning job-ready skills, like carpentry.

“There’s always room for carpenters. I’ll always know I’ll have a job with that,” said Matt Walker, from Poland, Maine.

Mills told reporters, “People are telling us all around the state that there’s a serious workforce need and a workforce shortage.”

Dave Daigler, President of the Maine Community College System, accompanying Mills, said the free tuition program will especially help prospective students from lower-income families.

Daigler said, “Those lower-income families have withdrawn from higher education. They found it very difficult to manage their way through the pandemic.”

Beyond community colleges, the Mills education agenda ranges from pledging $8 million to guarantee no tuition hike at the University of Maine system, attended by traditional, four-year college students, next academic year and to expand Pre-K programs around the state. Mills also proposes tapping into this year’s projected $822 million budget surplus to spend $27 million for universal free breakfast and lunch at K-12 schools, no matter a student’s economic status, and $42 million for the Opportunity Maine Tax Credit, offering up to $2,000 in annual income tax credits to help college graduates working in Maine pay off student loans.

“Most importantly, eliminate debt and give people their money back,” said Republican Sen. Matt Pouliot on Thursday night after Mills credited him as the architect of the idea.

Mills is also proposing allocating $30 million for a new Education Stabilization Fund to back up the state’s commitment to pay 55% of local school budgets, a legal requirement satisfied only last year.

Her administration has also implemented a minimum salary of $40,000 for public school teachers.

Mills said, “It’s not just one item alone but a holistic approach to education and career training and career opportunities. That’s what this is about.”

Her proposed new education spending will be in the supplemental budget the governor submits to the legislature next week.

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