AUGUSTA — The Senate unanimously opted Tuesday to override Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a measure that would let educators extend truancy enforcement rules to 5- and 6-year-old students enrolled in public school.

LePage said a better answer to truancy should be to make schools so inspiring and exciting that students want to show up for class.

He said the proposal sponsored by Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, instead “promotes punitive action that risks stigmatizing students and their families, all through an approach that has no proven results.”

The bill heads next to the House, where it initially won passage by a 99-45 margin, which if it holds up would be enough to override LePage’s veto.

Spurred in part by Lewiston’s problems keeping its youngest students in school, Libby said it’s a way to make sure children don’t fall through the cracks and fail to get the education they need before they turn seven, the existing age for truancy rules to kick in.

“While this bill may be well-intentioned, it is not the solution for chronic absenteeism at public schools, and it may even make the problem worse,” LePage said in his veto message.

“Instead of welcoming or inspiring students to attend school, this bill places blame and shame on students and their families for absenteeism by permitting the Department of Health and Human Services to enter the home of our state’s youngest students and force them to attend school,’ the governor said.

Though LePage said the proposal would interfere with parental rights, the measure explicitly allows parents to keep their children home if they prefer not to have them enrolled. Youngsters would not be required to attend school until age seven.

LePage said that imposing truancy rules on younger students “also reinforces the worst fears of parents who themselves may have had negative experiences at school. To be successful, our schools must foster positive relationships of trust with these students and their parents; this bill does the opposite.”

The governor said there are “more appropriate and effective approaches available to encourage and inspire students to attend school,” including the “Rise and Shine” program at East End Elementary School in Portland that puts “a stimulating 30-minute first period” at the start of each day to get students motivated to be there.

LePage said that instead of requiring the youngest children to attend, schools should seek to improve attendance and encourage engagement by adopting programs that inspire students.

“I am all in for efforts that inspire students to come to school every day, excited to learn,” LePage said.

The Maine Senate unanimously opted Tuesday to override Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a measure that would let educators extend truancy enforcement rules to 5- and 6-year-old students enrolled in public school. The bill was introduced by Sen. Nate Libby of Lewiston.


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