It’s happening. The mornings are getting chillier, the sun’s going down sooner and some of the trees are even starting to turn. Fall is on the way.

The return of the season celebrated by fans of pumpkin spice and football alike also marks the end of summer vacation and the start of a new school year. This year, the Legislature has made a few changes that parents, students, and all of us, should be aware of.

First, the state is stepping up its financial commitment to funding schools, taking some of that burden off property taxpayers who have seen their bills skyrocket in recent years. The new state budget includes $111 million in new support for K-12 schools. It also allocates $18 million to the School Revolving Loan Fund, which provides critical funding to repair aging and crumbling schools. We also increased the state’s investment in higher education, adult education and job training.

In addition, we took steps to make sure children are healthy and safe when they go to school. Last week I wrote about a program that makes it easier for schools to provide healthy, local food to students through their school lunch programs. We also made changes to allow more students to take advantage of free lunch programs, because hungry kids can’t learn. Finally, we took action to prevent food shaming, the practice of punishing or singling-out students for their inability to pay for their school lunch.

A new law we passed will add protections to help keep kids safe as they go to and from school. In Maine, it is currently illegal to pass a stopped school bus, and doing so can result in a hefty fine. Unfortunately, some drivers still violate this law, putting children and motorists in danger. The law, LD 166 “An Act To Protect Schoolchildren by Providing Additional Enforcement and Prevention Options for Unlawful Passing of a School Bus,” takes effect on Sept. 19 and allows school buses to use extended stop arms, which extend three to six feet from the left side of the school bus, making it more difficult for drivers to pass and allows for a traffic surveillance camera to be mounted on a school bus to catch bus passers in the act.

Another new law removes a senseless restriction that requires a doctor’s note for a student to apply sunscreen at school. Sunscreens are regulated as over-the-counter drugs under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, and had been prohibited from use on school grounds without a doctor’s permission. The bill — LD 441, “An Act To Reduce Childhood Exposure to Harmful Ultraviolet Radiation by Allowing Students To Use Sunscreen in Schools” — simply removes this requirement.

We also took action to ban vaping in schools, support teachers by removing onerous and unhelpful evaluation requirements, and we repealed the requirement of proficiency-based diploma standards.

These changes will help ensure students have a safe, healthy and productive school year.

If you have any questions or comments, I’d like to hear from you. I can be reached by email [email protected] or by phone at (207) 287-1515. I work for you, and you have a right to hold me accountable.

 

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