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  • Support rural Maine by investing in schools, broadband

    Editorial by Representative Dave McCrea from Fort Fairfield in Aroostook County

    It’s easy for an elected official to promise the world during a campaign. It’s another thing entirely to deliver on your promises and honor your word in a divided government.

    You may have heard Democrats promising a lot this past election. We told voters we’d fight to lower taxes for every Maine family, create better schools by finally ensuring the state pays its fair share,

    invest in safer infrastructure and the workers of Maine who build it, and bring high-speed internet access to rural areas to help our families and businesses compete.

    I’m proud that since day one of this session we’ve been pushing to do just that, because we know that Maine’s success depends on investing in our families and communities.

    Two examples of the ways we put our money where our mouth is happened this month in fact.

    Believing that the zip code you grow up in shouldn’t dictate the type of education you receive, voters supported Question 2 last fall, which created a funding stream that would make the state’s contribution to public education the full 55 percent as is current law. That referendum identified a 3 percent tax increase on the wealthiest in Maine as the source of funding.

    Despite the governor’s budget proposal, which seeks to ignore the new law, and a handful of other bills seeking to roll back Question 2, Democrats have stood strong, refusing to defund our schools to give yet another tax break to the wealthy. 

    The other example that makes me proud this week is the widespread support of my bill to expand rural access to high-speed internet. 

    Much has been said about the need to improve Maine’s business climate. If passed, LD 421 will spur Maine’s rural economy by supporting existing businesses as well as attracting new businesses that need high-speed internet to compete. 

    For those that don’t understand how important high speed internet access is to our communities, I suggest you try to complete a task using slow, or non-existent internet.

    For example, I am a recently-retired school teacher. At my school, due to dependable high-speed broadband internet, I could post a set of twenty Human Anatomy and Physiology grades into a  large program used by my school system in about a minute.

    If I were to attempt that same task at my residence in a more rural area of Fort Fairfield, it would often take me fiveminutes or more before I could upload one grade for one student.   

    When the weather is warm and when school is out for the day or for the summer, you can’t drive by our public library without seeing kids on the steps doing their homework I’m sure. There are also adults parked in their cars along the street, taking advantage of the dependable, high-speed internet access available at this location.

    My bill will go to the committee work session, likely pass through committee and then face a vote in the full Legislature. 

    Investing in our communities by protecting the quality of our public education and the tools our families need to succeed like high speed internet will strengthen Maine’s rural economy, its families and its businesses. 

    That’s a fight Democrats will lead and it’s fight we can proud of.

  • Obama on progress his administration has made in education

    Some remarks from President Barack Obama on progress his administration has made in education-

    The President was addressing a high school asembly at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, D.C. on October 17, 2016:

    We live in a global economy.  And when you graduate, you’re no longer going to be competing just with somebody here in D.C. for a great job.  You’re competing with somebody on the other side of the world, in China or in India, because jobs can go wherever they want because of the Internet and because of technology.  And the best jobs are going to go to the people who are the best educated -- whether in India or China, or anywhere in the world.  

    So when I took office almost eight years ago, we knew that our education system was falling short when it came to preparing young people like you for that reality.  Our public schools had been the envy of the world, but the world caught up.  And we started getting outpaced when it came to math and science education.  And African American and Latino students, in part because of the legacy of discrimination, too often lagged behind our white classmates -- something called the achievement gap that, by one estimate, costs us hundreds of billions of dollars a year.  And we were behind other developed countries when it came to the number of young people who were getting a higher education.  So I said, when I first came into office, by 2020 I want us to be number one again.  I want us to be number one across the board. 

    So we got to work, making real changes to improve the chances for all of our young people, from the time they're born all the way through until they got a career.  And the good news is that we’ve made real progress.  So I just wanted to talk to you about the progress we've made, because you are the reason we've made progress -- some outstanding young people all across the country.

    We recently learned that America’s high school graduation rate went up to 83 percent, which is the highest on record.  That's good news.  (Applause.)  More African American and Latino students are graduating than ever before.  (Applause.)  Right here in D.C., in just five years, the graduation rate in the District of Columbia public schools went from just 53 percent to 69 percent.  (Applause.)  So D.C.'s graduation rates grew faster than any other place in the country this year -- this past year.  That's something to be really proud of.  (Applause.) 

    Now, of course, here at Banneker, you graduated 100 percent of your seniors last year.  (Applause.)  One hundred percent.  It's been a while since I did math, but 100 percent is good.  (Laughter.)  You can't do better than that.  So what all these numbers mean is that more schools across D.C. and across the country are starting to catch up to what you guys are doing here, at this school.

    Now, some of the changes we made were hard, and some of them were controversial.  We expected more from our teachers and our students.  But the hard work that people have put in across the country has started to pay off. 

    And I just want to talk to you a little bit about some of the things that we did.  It starts with our youngest learners.  High-quality early education is one of the best investments we can make, which is why we’ve added over 60,000 children to Head Start.  We called for high-quality preschool for every four-year-old in America.  And when I took office, only 38 states offered access to state-funded preschool.  Today, it’s up to 46. We're trying to get those last holdouts to do the right thing.   And, by the way, the District of Columbia leads the nation with the highest share of children -- nearly 9 out of 10 -- in high-quality preschool.  And that's a big achievement.  (Applause.)  

    We launched then a competition called Race to the Top, which inspired states to set higher, better standards so that we could out-teach and out-compete other nations, and make sure that we've got high expectations for our students.  D.C. was one of the winners of this competition.  It upgraded standards, upgraded curriculum, worked to help teachers build their skills.  And that, in part, is why D.C. has done so well. 

    We realized that in today’s world, when you all have a computer in your pocket in those phones, then you need to learn not just how to use a phone, you need to learn computer science.  So we’re working with private and philanthropic partners to bring high schools into the 21st century and give you a more personalized and real-world experience.  We're bringing in high-speed internet into schools and libraries, reaching 20 million more students and helping teachers with digital learning.  And coding isn’t, by the way, just for boys in Silicon Valley, so we’re investing more in getting girls and young women and young people of color and low-income students into science and engineering and technology and math.  (Applause.) 

    And because we know that nothing is more important than a great teacher -- and you’ve got some great teachers here, as well as a great principal at Banneker -- (applause) -- we have focused on preparing and developing and supporting and rewarding excellent educators.  You all know how hard they work.  They stay up late grading your assignments.  That's why you got all those marks all over your papers.  They pull sometimes money out of their own pockets to make that lesson extra special.  And I promise you, the teachers here and the teachers around the country, they’re not doing it for the pay -- because teachers, unfortunately, still aren't paid as much as they should be.  They’re not doing it for the glory.  They’re doing it because they love you, and they believe in you, and they want to help you succeed. 

    So teachers deserve more than just our gratitude -- they deserve our full support.  And we've got to make their lives easier, which is why we enacted a law to fix No Child Left Behind, which gives teachers more flexibility to spend more time teaching creatively than just spending all their time teaching to a test.  Give your teachers a big round of applause.  (Applause.)  They deserve it.   

    So we've made real progress, but here’s the thing -- and I think all of you know this because you go to this great school-- a high school education these days is not enough.  By 2020, two out of three job openings require some form of higher education.  Now, that doesn’t always mean a four-year college degree, but it does mean -- whether it's a four-year university, or a community college, or some sort of training program -- you’ve got to get a little bit more than just what you're getting in high school. 

    It used to be that a high school job might be enough because you could go into a factory or even go into an office and just do some repetitive work, and if you were willing to work hard you could make a decent living.  But the problem is repetitive work now is done by machines.  And that's just going to be more and more true.  So in order for you to succeed in the marketplace, you’ve got to be able to think creatively; you’ve got to be able to work with a team; you’ve got to be able to work with a machine and figure out how to make it tailored for the specific requirements of your business and your job.  All those things require some more sophisticated thinking than just sitting there and just doing the same thing over and over again.  And that's why you’ve got to have more than just a high school education. 

    And if you doubt that, I just want to give you some statistics.  Compared to a high school diploma, just getting a degree from a two-year school, going to a community college and getting an associate’s degree could earn you more than $300,000 over the course of your lifetime.  And a four-year degree earns you a million dollars more than if you just had a high school degree.  Think about that.  A million dollars -- that's real money.

    So one of the things that we’re trying to do is to make it easier for you to access free money for college -- to figure out how you can pay for your college without having a mountain of debt.  And the key thing, as you know here at Banneker, but I want all the students around the country to do this -- and Michelle and I and others have been really emphasizing this -- is to fill out your FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

    How many people -- how many seniors here have already filled out their FAFSA forms?  (Applause.)  All right.  How many seniors here have not filled out their FAFSA forms?  Fess up now.  (Laughter.)  You sure?  All right, I just want to make sure now.  And, juniors, you can start getting ready now.

    Because what the FAFSA does is it puts you in the running for scholarships, grants, loans, work-study jobs, all to help you pay for college.  And we've made it simpler than ever.  And it's available right now at FAFSA.gov -- FAFSA.gov. And since this is one of the most important investments of your life, next year's FAFSA is also going to direct you to something we created, called our College Scorecard. 

    Now, here's what this is.  It gives you comprehensive information on every college in America.  Now, some of you who have started applying for colleges, you know about these college rankings, right?  It's like, oh, this is the best school.  And some of that information is useful; some of it not so much.  But unlike traditional rankings that focus on which school has the fanciest dorm or the nicest football stadiums, or is the most expensive or the most exclusive, what our College Scorecard does is it focuses on some of the things that really matter for your future.  Things like how many students actually graduate from the school -- because it's not enough just to enroll in college; you've got to graduate from college.  How much money do their alumni earn?  What percentage of their students can pay back their loans?  And what we’ve done is we've worked with companies like Google to put this information right at your fingertips. 

    So for a decision this important, we want you to be able to comparison shop to figure out how do you get the best value for your money, just like if you were buying something on Amazon.  If you were buying a car or you're buying a phone or you're buying anything, especially if it's a pretty big purchase, you want to know ahead of time, is this legit.  And what this does is makes you think about what your options are. 

    Now, you've got some great counselors here.  Obviously, you should work with them.  But not every student may be going to a school like Banneker that has as many good counselors to think about their college education.  And using this College Scorecard is going to be helpful for them to do a little comparison shopping.  Because you don't want to go to the school just because it's the closest one, and it turns out it's more expensive and doesn't do as good of a job as if you were willing to maybe travel someplace else, and it turns out that you could get the financial aid you need to go to a school that's more suited toward your needs.

    So we also reformed, by the way, the student loan system.  When I came into office, you had tens of billions of dollars that were going to big banks, serving as middlemen for your student loans.  We said, well, let's cut out the banks.  Let's give the money directly to the students so they can afford college and we can make the loans cheaper, and we can expand Pell grants. 

    And now, what we're trying to do is to push to make two years of community college free for every responsible student all across the country.  All across the country.  (Applause.)  And we're starting to work with colleges and universities around the country to bring down the cost of college so that at the end of four years of college you're not saddled with a whole bunch of debt -- because nobody should be priced out of a higher education.  (Applause.) 

    So bottom line is:  higher graduation rates, higher college attendance rates, more money for Pell grants and work to make sure that the interest rate on student loans haven't gone up; working to expand early childhood education and preschool; continuing to watch and work with states as they try to implement reforms to make K-12 better; holding colleges more accountable for giving information so that students can make good decisions.  We've made a lot of progress.  We have made a lot of progress in terms of making sure that young people across the country get the kind of great education that you're getting here at Banneker.  And I am really proud of what we've accomplished.  I'm proud of what the District of Columbia has accomplished.

    But I just want to be honest with you:  We've still got more work to do.  So as I go, I'm giving you kind of a final report card, transcript on what more we’ve got to get done.

    There are still too many states that are cutting back on public education.  And part of the reason tuition is going up is because states aren’t putting as much money into state education, universities, community colleges as they used to.  That’s why, if you’re 18, by the way, you’ve got to vote to make sure that the folks who represent you actually deliver.  (Applause.)

    We’ve still got too many states that have not really worked in a serious way to raise standards and improve performance.  In too many school districts, we still have schools that, despite the heroic efforts of a lot of great teachers, are not fully preparing our kids for success because they just don’t have the resources to do it or the structure to do it.  We’ve still got too many high schools where a third of their students do not earn their diplomas on time.

    For too many students in America, zip code still determines how far they’ll go.  And that’s not acceptable.  Some of you probably have friends or family who are just as smart or talented or as capable as you, but they didn’t have the same support or the right opportunities or didn’t get in the right school, and so now don’t have the same shot at success.  Am I right?  Because I know that’s true in our family.  Michelle and I, we’ve got cousins and friends who we’ve known since they were shorties, little kids -- (laughter) -- and they -- we know how smart they are because they were just as smart as we were, but just the luck of the draw was they didn’t get the same chance as we did.  And that’s not right. 

    So that’s why I started something called My Brother’s Keeper initiative, because what we want to do is help more young people, especially kids of color, get mentorships and the resources and the guidance they need to succeed.  And I’m going to stay involved with that even after I’m done being President.  (Applause.)  Because we all have a part to play in making sure every single child has every single opportunity to achieve his or her dreams.

    That’s what Banneker is all about.  That’s what you can see in somebody like Ifunaya.  I mean, that’s an incredible young lady who’s going to succeed because she has an incredible school in addition to an incredible family.  (Applause.)  And so we’re so proud of her. 

    There’s another person I want to just call out -- Amari McDuffie.  Where’s Amari?  Where’s Amari?  There she is right there, right in front.  (Applause.)  So, hey, Amari.  I’m going to talk about you for a second.  (Laughter.) 

    So Amari was born with a heart and a lung condition.  And sometimes she had to miss a lot of school because of her illness.  And you know, Banneker is a pretty rigorous school, so she was worried about staying on top of her work.  But everybody in this family rallied around her and made sure she was keeping up.  Her history teacher, Mr. Goldfarb -- where’s Mr. Goldfarb?  (Applause.)  Is he here or did he cut assembly?  (Laughter.)  So Mr. Goldfarb came to visit her when Amari was in the hospital for weeks, brought a card from the whole class.  And so Amari, she was talking about the support everybody here gave her, and she said, “I believed in myself because my teachers believed in me.” 

    And that’s the kind of community that we want in every school -- where you’re looking out for each other and you’re taking care of one another.  And so now Amari plans to be a doctor so she can help kids who had illnesses like hers.  And that’s what’s possible -- (applause) -- that's what's possible when we’re all committed to each other’s success; when we understand that no matter what you look like, where you come from, what faith you are, whether you’re a boy or a girl -- that you should have great opportunities to succeed.  And that requires you to put effort into it.  

    Michelle and I talk a lot because we travel around the world and sometimes we forget that there are places around the world where people have so little but the kids are so hungry for an education.  And they don’t even have an actual roof over their head in some of their schools.  And so even if you’re really poor in this country, you can succeed if you want to invest in the teachers and the community, and everybody raises standards and believes in each other.  And that’s what we want all of America to believe, in every kid -- because there’s magic in each and every one of you.  And we just have to help you unleash it and nurture it and realize it. 

    And, by the way, it’s because of young people like you that I leave the presidency never more optimistic than I am right now, because I’ve met so many young people around the country whose energy, and excitement, and how you treat each other, with respect.  That gives me a lot of confidence, a lot of faith for our country. 

    So I know you guys are going to keep on working hard.  You’re going to keep making our communities proud.  If us adults do our part and we stay focused on making sure every school is as great as this one, and that every young person has those same opportunities, and everybody has a teacher like Mr. Goldfarb looking out for them, I’ve got no doubt that we're going to continue to build a country where everybody has the chance to make of their lives what they will.  And that’s what America is all about.

     

  • Biotech in Maine - from printing bone and muscle to lung cancer testing

    Research and development in biotechnology is the main cause of the industry’s growth, and the latest biotech news reflects this. Inventions and innovations in 2016 span diagnostics, consumer electronics, artificial human tissue and cryopreservation.

    The latest biotechnology news demonstrates what the future of this field might hold for healthcare and beyond.

    3-D Bioprinting

    A team at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center developed an integrated tissue-organ printer able to produce human-scale tissue of any shape, according toNature Biotechnology.

    The printer improves on previous attempts by using a technique that 3-D prints tissues that includes micro-channels, which allows nutrients to penetrate the tissue. Tissues are given a water-based gel, containing the cells and encouraging them to grow, according to the BBC.

    The study found that sections of bone, muscle and cartilage all functioned normally when implanted into animals. Scientists called it a significant advance for regenerative medicine, and Martin Birchall, a surgeon at University College London, told the BBC the results were “striking.”

    “The prospect of printing human tissues and organs for implantation has been a real one for some time, but I confess I did not expect to see such rapid progress,” Birchall said, predicting that it will be less than a decade before surgeons begin trials of customized printed organs and tissues.

    Google Glass Applications

    Stanford University graduate student Catalin Voss’ Autism Glass project won the $15,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize in 2016. The competition is open to new inventions in healthcare as well as transportation, food and agriculture or consumer devices.

    The 20-year-old inventor’s project adds emotion-recognition software for Google Glass that tells a child with autism whether a person the child looks at is happy, sad or angry, Scientific American explains. Autism Glass uses a smartphone with software to analyze data from the Google Glass and provide feedback to the user. It also records video for parents to review and to help children improve their learning.

    Scientists from Brigham and Women’s Hospital announced the remote monitoring of organs-on-chips via Google Glass, according to Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News. Organs-on-chips are microchips that recapitulate the microarchitecture and functions of living organs. They are used for drug testing and development as well as studying the function of healthy or diseased organs.

    The custom Google Glass application allowed researchers to monitor and control microfluidically sustained liver and heart tissues. They were able to oversee parameters like temperature, pH and morphology of organs-on-chips. They were also able to activate valves remotely to introduce pharmaceutical compounds to organoid tissues. The technology could make applications in biomedicine and healthcare safer (such as work with viruses, radioactive compounds and highly pathogenic bacteria) and more efficient.

    Lung Cancer Testing

    A fast and accurate test is able to detect biomarkers of lung cancer in saliva, according to Medical News Today. In just 10 minutes, patients can receive a result in the comfort of a doctor’s office.

    The breakthrough comes after 10 years of research, led by oral cancer and saliva diagnostics researcher David Wong of the School of Dentistry at UCLA. The “liquid biopsy” method searches for circulating tumor DNA in bodily fluids such as saliva and blood. The saliva test detects genetic mutations in a protein called epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), which normally helps cells grow and divide. Mutations in the EGFR are associated with lung cancer.

    Trials in lung cancer patients are taking place in China, as of February 2016. Wong and his colleagues are looking at a saliva test for detecting mutations linked to cancers of the mouth and the back of the throat.

    Orchid Cryopreservation 

    A literature review from Biotechnology Advances details orchid cryopreservation efforts, focusing on recent advances in the development of orchid cryobiotechnology. This field applies a wide range of cryopreservation methods to orchid explants (cells, organs or pieces of tissue), such as the following applications.

    * Programmed freezing for pollen.

    * Encapsulation-dehydration and encapsulation-vitrification for seeds, protocorms and shoot tips.

    * Vitrification for seeds, cultured cells, shoot tips and protocorms.

    * Droplet-vitrification for shoot tips and protocorms.

    * Preculture-desiccation for shoot primordia and rhizomes.

    Successful development and application of cryobiotechnology extends to nearly 100 species and commercial hybrids of orchids. However, given the diversity of the orchid family (Orchidaceae), this covers less than 0.5 percent of the species. Further efforts are needed to safeguard genetic diversity of the socioeconomically important and culturally valuable orchid species. Orchids derived from cryogenically stored material can be propagated and later reintroduced into their native habitats.

    Orchids are used as food, flavorings, medicines, ornaments and perfumes. Recent clinical trials have proved the medicinal value of some traditional used orchid species. The presence of medicinally active chemicals such as polysaccharides and secondary metabolites including alkaloids, glycosides, phenolic compounds and many others have been also documented in orchid tissues. Orchids are most often used in the modern world as ornamentals and represent 8 percent of the global floriculture trade.

  • Sen. Millett: Early childhood programs are crucial to our kids' futures — and to Maine

    Editorial by Senator Rebecca Millett

    When I think about the future, I think about what we are doing for our children, and whether we are doing the hard work to ensure their future is a prosperous one.

    Today, we know more than we ever have about how children grow and how to address factors in early childhood development that lead to long-term problems when those kids become adults.

    Consider the example of pre-k education. In years past, formal education generally began when kids were about five years old. In some communities, kindergarten was only a half-day program, meaning kids didn’t get a full curriculum until age six, sometimes even later.

    These days, we know that getting a jumpstart on education pays huge dividends. Pre-k is linked to lower rates of unemployment and violent crime, higher earnings and even higher IQs.

    Those benefits are shared by all children, regardless of their background. But they are particularly important for students who experience high levels of stress during their early, formative years.

    We know that a child’s development is shaped by experience, relationships and environmental factors. Positive experiences, healthy relationships and a supportive environment help build the developmental foundations for success, while stressors such poverty, insufficient food or an unstable family life risk pulling children in the wrong direction.

    Those forms of chronic or persistent stress are linked to lower educational achievement and riskier behavior such as drug use. They also cause an exaggerated stress response that has a physical effect on a child’s health, weakening their defense system against diseases from heart disease to diabetes and depression.

    Children exposed to these conditions need the kinds of intervention provided by supportive and consistent relationships with adults and their peers. That’s why it’s so crucial that we work together to design community safeguards and interventions to make sure all of our children have the same fair shot at healthy, prosperous lives.

    Pre-k is just one example. Other initiatives can also offer strong foundational supports necessary to help the next generation succeed. Whether it’s pre-k, increased access to childcare, support for new parents,  or job training for mom and dad, we can create smart, effective policies that create the environment for kids to thrive, from the home, to the classroom, and into adulthood.

    States and communities that have taken innovative approaches like these have reaped the rewards of their hard work. They’re not only good for individual kids; they’re good for the economy, and for the taxpayer, who will shoulder lower costs for interventions such as law enforcement and welfare in the long-term.

    That’s thinking about the future. That’s seeing the big picture. For all of our sake, let’s keep it in mind when the next Legislature returns in January.

  • Maine senate passes bills to aid student retention, provide student debt relief


    Senate passes bills to aid student retention, provide student debt relief

    The Maine Senate on April 11, 2016 passed bills designed to ease the burden of student debt and to help Maine’s postsecondary schools retain students through graduation.

    Both bills were sponsored by Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond of Portland. They were removed from the Special Appropriations Table and funded. They will be sent to the House for enactment before a final vote in the Senate.

    LD 215, “An Act to Improve Student Retention in Maine’s Postsecondary Institutions,” charges Jobs for Maine’s Graduates, a quasi-public education nonprofit, to provide mentoring and counseling services designed to significantly increase graduation rates at Maine’s public colleges and universities.

    “Too many students leave school before obtaining a degree,” said Sen. Alfond. “For many, the reason is cost. But for others, it’s because of a lack of mentorship. JMG has a proven track record at helping Maine students succeed, and I’m confident that with their help, we can keep young people in school until they walk down the aisle and get that diploma.”

    LD 1657, “An Act to Simplify and Expand the Educational Opportunity Tax Credit,” will allow more students to claim the Educational Opportunity Tax Credit, or EOTC, which has helped thousands of Mainers get their education, stay in Maine, and pay off their student debt. It also expands the credit businesses may claim for helping their eligible employees pay their loans.

    The bill was amended in the Senate on Monday to also include provisions of LD 1505, which expanded the EOTC to include eligible portions of consolidated student loans.

    “The EOTC is the state’s first line of offense to support workforce development and fight the brain drain,” said Sen. Alfond, who spearheaded the EOTC’s creation in 2008. “By expanding eligibility, we open the door to attract and keep even more young people in our state. Retaining a skilled workforce within our state’s borders will make Maine more attractive to business and support our economy. This bill is a win-win for Maine students and businesses alike.”

  • Maine Senate sends education funding referendum to voters

     A citizen initiative to establish a fund to support Maine’s financial obligations to K-12 education was sent to voters after a unanimous vote of the Maine Senate on March 22, 2016.

    Voters in 2004 approved an initiative that requires the State of Maine to cover 55 percent of the cost of public K-12 education. However, that initiative did not specify the funding mechanism for the state’s share of school costs, and state funding has never met the 55 percent threshold.

    This year’s ballot question will ask voters whether to approve a 3 percent surcharge on household income over $200,000. This surcharge will be used to help Maine meet its obligations to its schools, students and teachers.

    “For too long, schools have been short-funded,” said Sen. Rebecca Millett, the lead Senate Democrat on the Education Committee. “That has spurred difficult budget decisions and put pressure on local property taxes. Voters told us in 2004 that they expected better. Now, they’ll have an opportunity once again to reaffirm their demand that the state pay its bills.”

    The citizen initiative will appear on the ballot in November’s election.



  • UMaine receives $500,000 grant for Graduate Studies Center

    The Maine Center for Graduate Professional Studies has landed a $500,000 grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation, the University of Maine System announced on March 10th.

    The Maine Center Initiative was launched in 2015 to bring the University of Maine System graduate programs together in one building called, The Maine Center for Graduate Professional Studies in Portland.

    It would house the University of Maine School of Law, the graduate business programs that now operate at the University of Southern Maine and UMaine in Orono, and the graduate programs in public health and in public policy and management that now operate at the Muskie school at USM. It also would house the Cutler Institute for Health and Policy, which is the research arm of USM and part of the Muskie school on the Portland campus.

    The $500,000 would go for “strategic development” of the plan.The Maine Center for Graduate Professional Studies now has received more than $2 million in support from the Harold Alfond Foundation.

  • 27 Bigelow Laboratory students and scientists to present research at the Ocean Sciences meeting in New Orleans

    The East Boothbay campus of Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences will be quiet the week of February 21st as nearly half of its scientists travel to New Orleans to share their research findings with international colleagues at the 2016 Ocean Sciences Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana next week.  Included in the entourage will be 11 college students who will present research findings from this past summer working under the mentorship of Bigelow Laboratory scientists.  The February 21-26 meeting, co-sponsored by the American Geophysical Union (AGU), Association of Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO), and The Oceanography Society (TOS) is expected to attract thousands of scientists from around the globe.

    “This meeting serves as a global platform for the world’s experts to share information, data, and new insights that participants take home and incorporate into their own research,” said Dr. David Fields, who leads the undergraduate research program at Bigelow Laboratory. “We are delighted to provide this opportunity for students for it will not only expand their thinking, but they will have the unique chance to present their research findings in a professional setting among leaders in ocean science research. It will be an amazing experience for them.”

    The 11 students—Francisco Spaulding Astudillo, Emma Cold, Evangeline Fachon, Andrew Goode, Jeremiah Ets-Hokin, Alicia Hoeglund, Devan Khana, Emily Lyczkowski, Julia Maine, Halley McVeigh, and Jes Waller—will be accompanied by their Bigelow Laboratory mentors.  In addition to Fields, Research Scientists Christoph Aeppli, William Balch, Pete Countway, Mike Lomas, Patricia Matrai, Nicole Poulton, Ramunas Stepanauskas, and Benjamin Twining will be attending the meeting. Postdoctoral Researchers Steven Baer, Jason Hopkins, Younjoo Lee, Daniel Ohnemus, Kerstin Suffrian, LeAnn Whitney, and Meredith White also will be presenting.  Research technician Laura Lubelczyk rounds out the Bigelow Laboratory contingent.

    “This meeting comes at a critical time for the oceans and is a superb venue for sharing what is known about what is happening in the global ocean,” said Matrai, who also served as ASLO treasurer. “It offers scientists an opportunity to share what they are learning, discuss new findings, and collectively get a better handle on the state of the ocean

    The Bigelow Laboratory cohort promises to share what they learn over the course of the meeting.  Check back at www.bigelow.orgregularly for updates or follow along at @Bigelowlab.

    Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, an independent not-for-profit research institution on the coast of Maine, conducts research ranging from microbial oceanography to large-scale ocean processes that affect the global environment. Recognized as a leader in Maine’s emerging innovation economy, the Laboratory’s research, education, and enterprise programs are spurring significant economic growth in the state.

  • Education bill to boost teacher training, base salary clears committee

     

    The Education Committee on February 16, 2016 endorsed a bill to improve in-classroom teacher training and increase the base salary for Maine’s teachers.

    “Our teachers have the power to shape future generations and set our children on a path to success for the rest of their lives,” said Democratic Sen. Rebecca Millett, the bill’s sponsor. “It’s crucial that we give them the tools, and the incentives, they need to do their jobs.”

    The bill, LD 1370, “An Act to Improve the Quality of Teachers,” would improve Maine’s teacher quality by establishing:

    • a new minimum salary of $40,000 for Maine teachers;
    • a requirement that all Maine teachers have a GPA of at least 3.0 in teacher prep courses upon graduation; and
    • expanded student teaching opportunities and additional supports for first-year teachers.

     

    Sen. Millett, the lead Senate Democrat on the Education Committee and a former member of her local school board, said the provisions of her bill would make teacher salaries more competitive and give new teachers a greater toolset at the start of their careers.

    Maine’s aging teacher population is staring down a retirement boom in the coming years. Without competitive salaries, young people who could very well be the best teachers of their generation may choose a more lucrative career outside education.

    Similarly, the bill bolster’s the student-teaching phase of teacher training, providing more pre-certification in-classroom experience and additional peer support during a provisional first-year on the job.

    “A teacher’s first year is critical to their self-confidence, continued enthusiasm for the profession and the longevity of their career,” Sen. Millett said. “This bill will improve new teachers’ ability to hit the ground running the moment they step into the classroom.”

    The bill now heads to the Senate.

  • Maine Rep. McCreight's bill would make student loan consolidation more affordable

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine could soon provide immediate tax relief for some students who consolidate their student loans. 

    At a hearing before the Legislature’s Taxation Committee Wednesday, Rep. Jay McCreight, D-Harpswell, presented a bill to fix a problem where some students who consolidated their loans were being cut off from the Opportunity Maine tax credit.

    The credit, enacted in 2008 under the Baldacci administration, was designed to make post-secondary education more affordable and reduce the burden of monthly student loan payments. The measure started with a citizens initative, was unanimously voted in by the legisalture, and signed by Governor John Baldacci.

    Students who incur debt at a Maine institution are eligible for the credit, but some have been losing access after consolidating their eligible loans with loans from out-of-state schools.

    “If a student received part of their education elsewhere, but then came back to Maine to start their lives, they shouldn’t be punished for that,” said McCreight. “We want young people to move here, and, when they do, we want them to be able to support themselves and prosper. We shouldn’t be in the business of penalizing working people for trying to consolidate their debt.”

    While the budget passed last year included language that would restore access to the credit starting in 2017, McCreight’s bill would restore access immediately, allowing people to claim the Opportunity Maine credit on their 2015 returns and receive immediate relief.  

    McCreight submitted the legislation after hearing from Emma Burke, a former student who said she and many of her peers are finding it more difficult to get by or plan for major life expenses like a buying home or having children, even with a good-paying job. 

    “My monthly student loan payments simply make it impossible for me to have any type of savings,” said Burke. “Mainers who have gone to school out of state, or who have pursued an advanced degree, should not be punished for doing so.”

    Nobody testified against the bill.

    The committee will hold a work session on McCreight’s legislation in the coming days.

  • President Obama's full State of the Union, 2016

     PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, my fellow Americans:  

    Tonight marks the eighth year that I’ve come here to report on the State of the Union.  And for this final one, I’m going to try to make it a little shorter.  (Applause.)  I know some of you are antsy to get back to Iowa.  (Laughter.)  I've been there.  I'll be shaking hands afterwards if you want some tips.  (Laughter.) 

    And I understand that because it’s an election season, expectations for what we will achieve this year are low.  But, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the constructive approach that you and the other leaders took at the end of last year to pass a budget and make tax cuts permanent for working families.  So I hope we can work together this year on some bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform -- (applause) -- and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse.  (Applause.)  So, who knows, we might surprise the cynics again. 

    But tonight, I want to go easy on the traditional list of proposals for the year ahead.  Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty, from helping students learn to write computer code to personalizing medical treatments for patients.  And I will keep pushing for progress on the work that I believe still needs to be done.  Fixing a broken immigration system.  (Applause.)  Protecting our kids from gun violence.  (Applause.)  Equal pay for equal work.  (Applause.)  Paid leave.  (Applause.)  Raising the minimum wage. (Applause.)  All these things still matter to hardworking families.  They’re still the right thing to do.  And I won't let up until they get done.

    But for my final address to this chamber, I don’t want to just talk about next year.  I want to focus on the next five years, the next 10 years, and beyond.  I want to focus on our future.

    We live in a time of extraordinary change -- change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet, our place in the world.  It’s change that promises amazing medical breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families.  It promises education for girls in the most remote villages, but also connects terrorists plotting an ocean away.  It’s change that can broaden opportunity, or widen inequality.  And whether we like it or not, the pace of this change will only accelerate.

    America has been through big changes before -- wars and depression, the influx of new immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, movements to expand civil rights.  Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change; who promised to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control.  And each time, we overcame those fears.  We did not, in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the “dogmas of the quiet past.”  Instead we thought anew, and acted anew.  We made change work for us, always extending America’s promise outward, to the next frontier, to more people.  And because we did -- because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril -- we emerged stronger and better than before.

    What was true then can be true now.  Our unique strengths as a nation -- our optimism and work ethic, our spirit of discovery, our diversity, our commitment to rule of law -- these things give us everything we need to ensure prosperity and security for generations to come. 

    In fact, it’s in that spirit that we have made progress these past seven years.  That's how we recovered from the worst economic crisis in generations.  (Applause.)  That's how we reformed our health care system, and reinvented our energy sector.  (Applause.)  That's how we delivered more care and benefits to our troops coming home and our veterans.  (Applause.) That's how we secured the freedom in every state to marry the person we love.  (Applause.) 

    But such progress is not inevitable.  It’s the result of choices we make together.  And we face such choices right now.  Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, turning against each other as a people?  Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, in what we stand for, in the incredible things that we can do together?

    So let’s talk about the future, and four big questions that I believe we as a country have to answer -- regardless of who the next President is, or who controls the next Congress. 

    First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?  (Applause.) 

    Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us -- especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?  (Applause.) 

    Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?  (Applause.) 

    And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?

    Let me start with the economy, and a basic fact:  The United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world.  (Applause.)  We’re in the middle of the longest streak of private sector job creation in history.  (Applause.)  More than 14 million new jobs, the strongest two years of job growth since the ‘90s, an unemployment rate cut in half.  Our auto industry just had its best year ever.  (Applause.)  That's just part of a manufacturing surge that's created nearly 900,000 new jobs in the past six years.  And we’ve done all this while cutting our deficits by almost three-quarters.  (Applause.) 

    Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction.  (Applause.)  Now, what is true -- and the reason that a lot of Americans feel anxious -- is that the economy has been changing in profound ways, changes that started long before the Great Recession hit; changes that have not let up. 

    Today, technology doesn’t just replace jobs on the assembly line, but any job where work can be automated.  Companies in a global economy can locate anywhere, and they face tougher competition.  As a result, workers have less leverage for a raise.  Companies have less loyalty to their communities.  And more and more wealth and income is concentrated at the very top.

    All these trends have squeezed workers, even when they have jobs; even when the economy is growing.  It’s made it harder for a hardworking family to pull itself out of poverty, harder for young people to start their careers, tougher for workers to retire when they want to.  And although none of these trends are unique to America, they do offend our uniquely American belief that everybody who works hard should get a fair shot.

    For the past seven years, our goal has been a growing economy that works also better for everybody.  We’ve made progress.  But we need to make more.  And despite all the political arguments that we’ve had these past few years, there are actually some areas where Americans broadly agree.

    We agree that real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job.  The bipartisan reform of No Child Left Behind was an important start, and together, we’ve increased early childhood education, lifted high school graduation rates to new highs, boosted graduates in fields like engineering.  In the coming years, we should build on that progress, by providing Pre-K for all and -- (applause) -- offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one.  We should recruit and support more great teachers for our kids.  (Applause.) 

    And we have to make college affordable for every American.  (Applause.)  No hardworking student should be stuck in the red.  We’ve already reduced student loan payments to 10 percent of a borrower’s income.  And that's good.  But now, we’ve actually got to cut the cost of college.  (Applause.)  Providing two years of community college at no cost for every responsible student is one of the best ways to do that, and I’m going to keep fighting to get that started this year.  (Applause.)  It's the right thing to do.  (Applause.) 

    But a great education isn’t all we need in this new economy. We also need benefits and protections that provide a basic measure of security.  It’s not too much of a stretch to say that some of the only people in America who are going to work the same job, in the same place, with a health and retirement package for 30 years are sitting in this chamber.  (Laughter.)  For everyone else, especially folks in their 40s and 50s, saving for retirement or bouncing back from job loss has gotten a lot tougher.  Americans understand that at some point in their careers, in this new economy, they may have to retool and they may have to retrain.  But they shouldn’t lose what they’ve already worked so hard to build in the process. 

    That’s why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever.  We shouldn’t weaken them; we should strengthen them. (Applause.)  And for Americans short of retirement, basic benefits should be just as mobile as everything else is today.  That, by the way, is what the Affordable Care Act is all about.  It’s about filling the gaps in employer-based care so that when you lose a job, or you go back to school, or you strike out and launch that new business, you’ll still have coverage.  Nearly 18 million people have gained coverage so far.  (Applause.)  And in the process, health care inflation has slowed.  And our businesses have created jobs every single month since it became law.

    Now, I’m guessing we won’t agree on health care anytime soon.  (Applause.)  A little applause right there.  Laughter.)  Just a guess.  But there should be other ways parties can work together to improve economic security.  Say a hardworking American loses his job -- we shouldn’t just make sure that he can get unemployment insurance; we should make sure that program encourages him to retrain for a business that’s ready to hire him.  If that new job doesn’t pay as much, there should be a system of wage insurance in place so that he can still pay his bills.  And even if he’s going from job to job, he should still be able to save for retirement and take his savings with him.  That’s the way we make the new economy work better for everybody.

    I also know Speaker Ryan has talked about his interest in tackling poverty.  America is about giving everybody willing to work a chance, a hand up.  And I’d welcome a serious discussion about strategies we can all support, like expanding tax cuts for low-income workers who don't have children.  (Applause.)  

    But there are some areas where we just have to be honest -- it has been difficult to find agreement over the last seven years.  And a lot of them fall under the category of what role the government should play in making sure the system’s not rigged in favor of the wealthiest and biggest corporations.  (Applause.) And it's an honest disagreement, and the American people have a choice to make.

    I believe a thriving private sector is the lifeblood of our economy.  I think there are outdated regulations that need to be changed.  There is red tape that needs to be cut.  (Applause.)  There you go!  Yes!  (Applause  But after years now of record corporate profits, working families won’t get more opportunity or bigger paychecks just by letting big banks or big oil or hedge funds make their own rules at everybody else’s expense.  (Applause.)  Middle-class families are not going to feel more secure because we allowed attacks on collective bargaining to go unanswered.  Food Stamp recipients did not cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did.  (Applause.)  Immigrants aren’t the principal reason wages haven’t gone up; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that all too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns.  It’s sure not the average family watching tonight that avoids paying taxes through offshore accounts.  (Applause.)   

    The point is, I believe that in this In new economy, workers and start-ups and small businesses need more of a voice, not less.  The rules should work for them.  (Applause.)  And I'm not alone in this.  This year I plan to lift up the many businesses who’ve figured out that doing right by their workers or their customers or their communities ends up being good for their shareholders.  (Applause.)  And I want to spread those best practices across America.  That's part of a brighter future.  (Applause.) 

    In fact, it turns out many of our best corporate citizens are also our most creative.  And this brings me to the second big question we as a country have to answer:  How do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges?

    Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there.  (Laughter.)  We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight.  And 12 years later, we were walking on the moon.  (Applause.)   

    Now, that spirit of discovery is in our DNA.  America is Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and George Washington Carver.  America is Grace Hopper and Katherine Johnson and Sally Ride.  America is every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley, racing to shape a better world.  (Applause.)  That's who we are. 

    And over the past seven years, we’ve nurtured that spirit.  We’ve protected an open Internet, and taken bold new steps to get more students and low-income Americans online.  (Applause.)  We’ve launched next-generation manufacturing hubs, and online tools that give an entrepreneur everything he or she needs to start a business in a single day.  But we can do so much more. 

    Last year, Vice President Biden said that with a new moonshot, America can cure cancer.  Last month, he worked with this Congress to give scientists at the National Institutes of Health the strongest resources that they’ve had in over a decade. (Applause.)  So tonight, I’m announcing a new national effort to get it done.  And because he’s gone to the mat for all of us on so many issues over the past 40 years, I’m putting Joe in charge of Mission Control.  (Applause.)  For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the families that we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.  (Applause.) 

    Medical research is critical.  We need the same level of commitment when it comes to developing clean energy sources.  (Applause.)  Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it.  You will be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.  (Applause.)   

    But even if -- even if the planet wasn’t at stake, even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record -- until 2015 turned out to be even hotter -- why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future? (Applause.) 

    Listen, seven years ago, we made the single biggest investment in clean energy in our history.  Here are the results. In fields from Iowa to Texas, wind power is now cheaper than dirtier, conventional power.  On rooftops from Arizona to New York, solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars a year on their energy bills, and employs more Americans than coal -- in jobs that pay better than average.  We’re taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy -- something, by the way, that environmentalists and Tea Partiers have teamed up to support.   And meanwhile, we’ve cut our imports of foreign oil by nearly 60 percent, and cut carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.  (Applause.)  Gas under two bucks a gallon ain’t bad, either.  (Applause.) 

    Now we’ve got to accelerate the transition away from old, dirtier energy sources.  Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future -- especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels.  We do them no favor when we don't show them where the trends are going.  That’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet. And that way, we put money back into those communities, and put tens of thousands of Americans to work building a 21st century transportation system.  (Applause.) 

    Now, none of this is going to happen overnight.  And, yes, there are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo.  But the jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save, the planet we’ll preserve -- that is the kind of future our kids and our grandkids deserve.  And it's within our grasp. 

    Climate change is just one of many issues where our security is linked to the rest of the world.  And that’s why the third big question that we have to answer together is how to keep America safe and strong without either isolating ourselves or trying to nation-build everywhere there’s a problem.

    I told you earlier all the talk of America’s economic decline is political hot air.  Well, so is all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker.  Let me tell you something.  The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth.  Period. (Applause.)  Period.  It’s not even close.  It's not even close. (Applause.)  It's not even close.  We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.  Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world.  (Applause.)  No nation attacks us directly, or our allies, because they know that’s the path to ruin.  Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office, and when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead -- they call us.  (Applause.)

    I mean, it's useful to level the set here, because when we don't, we don't make good decisions.    

    Now, as someone who begins every day with an intelligence briefing, I know this is a dangerous time.  But that’s not primarily because of some looming superpower out there, and certainly not because of diminished American strength.  In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states. 

    The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that date back millennia.  Economic headwinds are blowing in from a Chinese economy that is in significant transition.  Even as their economy severely contracts, Russia is pouring resources in to prop up Ukraine and Syria -- client states that they saw slipping away from their orbit.  And the international system we built after World War II is now struggling to keep pace with this new reality.

    It’s up to us, the United States of America, to help remake that system.  And to do that well it means that we’ve got to set priorities.

    Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks.  (Applause.)  Both al Qaeda and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people, because in today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage.  They use the Internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country.  Their actions undermine and destabilize our allies.  We have to take them out.

    But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands.  Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages -- they pose an enormous danger to civilians; they have to be stopped.  But they do not threaten our national existence.  (Applause.)  That is the story ISIL wants to tell.  That’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit.  We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, and we sure don't need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions.  (Applause.)  We just need to call them what they are -- killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.  (Applause.)  

    And that’s exactly what we’re doing.  For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology.  With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we’re taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, their weapons.  We’re training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria. 

    If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, authorize the use of military force against ISIL.  Take a vote.  (Applause.)  Take a vote.  But the American people should know that with or without congressional action, ISIL will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them.  If you doubt America’s commitment -- or mine -- to see that justice is done, just ask Osama bin Laden.  (Applause.)  Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell.  When you come after Americans, we go after you.  (Applause.)  And it may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limits.  (Applause.)  

    Our foreign policy hast to be focused on the threat from ISIL and al Qaeda, but it can’t stop there.  For even without ISIL, even without al Qaeda, instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world -- in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan, in parts of Central America, in Africa, and Asia.  Some of these places may become safe havens for new terrorist networks.  Others will just fall victim to ethnic conflict, or famine, feeding the next wave of refugees.  The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet-bomb civilians.  That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage.

    We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis, even if it's done with the best of intentions.  (Applause.)  That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately will weaken us.  It’s the lesson of Vietnam; it's the lesson of Iraq -- and we should have learned it by now.  (Applause.)   

    Fortunately, there is a smarter approach, a patient and disciplined strategy that uses every element of our national power.  It says America will always act, alone if necessary, to protect our people and our allies; but on issues of global concern, we will mobilize the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight.   

    That’s our approach to conflicts like Syria, where we’re partnering with local forces and leading international efforts to help that broken society pursue a lasting peace.

    That’s why we built a global coalition, with sanctions and principled diplomacy, to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.  And as we speak, Iran has rolled back its nuclear program, shipped out its uranium stockpile, and the world has avoided another war.  (Applause.)   

    That’s how we stopped the spread of Ebola in West Africa.  (Applause.)  Our military, our doctors, our development workers -- they were heroic; they set up the platform that then allowed other countries to join in behind us and stamp out that epidemic. Hundreds of thousands, maybe a couple million lives were saved.

    That’s how we forged a Trans-Pacific Partnership to open markets, and protect workers and the environment, and advance American leadership in Asia.  It cuts 18,000 taxes on products made in America, which will then support more good jobs here in America.  With TPP, China does not set the rules in that region; we do.  You want to show our strength in this new century?  Approve this agreement.  Give us the tools to enforce it.  It's the right thing to do.  (Applause.)   

    Let me give you another example.  Fifty years of isolating Cuba had failed to promote democracy, and set us back in Latin America.  That’s why we restored diplomatic relations -- (applause) -- opened the door to travel and commerce, positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people.  (Applause.) So if you want to consolidate our leadership and credibility in the hemisphere, recognize that the Cold War is over -- lift the embargo.  (Applause.)  

    The point is American leadership in the 21st century is not a choice between ignoring the rest of the world -- except when we kill terrorists -- or occupying and rebuilding whatever society is unraveling.  Leadership means a wise application of military power, and rallying the world behind causes that are right.  It means seeing our foreign assistance as a part of our national security, not something separate, not charity. 

    When we lead nearly 200 nations to the most ambitious agreement in history to fight climate change, yes, that helps vulnerable countries, but it also protects our kids.  When we help Ukraine defend its democracy, or Colombia resolve a decades-long war, that strengthens the international order we depend on. When we help African countries feed their people and care for the sick -- (applause) -- it's the right thing to do, and it prevents the next pandemic from reaching our shores.  Right now, we’re on track to end the scourge of HIV/AIDS.  That's within our grasp.  (Applause.)  And we have the chance to accomplish the same thing with malaria -- something I’ll be pushing this Congress to fund this year.  (Applause.) 

    That's American strength.  That's American leadership.  And that kind of leadership depends on the power of our example.  That’s why I will keep working to shut down the prison at Guantanamo.  (Applause.)  It is expensive, it is unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies.  (Applause.)  There’s a better way.  (Applause.)   

    And that’s why we need to reject any politics -- any politics -- that targets people because of race or religion.  (Applause.)  Let me just say this.  This is not a matter of political correctness.  This is a matter of understanding just what it is that makes us strong.  The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity, and our openness, and the way we respect every faith. 

    His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot that I'm standing on tonight that “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.”  When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer.  That’s not telling it like it is.  It’s just wrong.  (Applause.)  It diminishes us in the eyes of the world.  It makes it harder to achieve our goals.  It betrays who we are as a country.  (Applause.) 

    “We the People.”  Our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people, not just some; words that insist we rise and fall together, and that's how we might perfect our Union.  And that brings me to the fourth, and maybe the most important thing that I want to say tonight.

    The future we want -- all of us want -- opportunity and security for our families, a rising standard of living, a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids -- all that is within our reach.  But it will only happen if we work together.  It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates.  It will only happen if we fix our politics.

    A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything.  This is a big country -- different regions, different attitudes, different interests.  That’s one of our strengths, too.  Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, fiercely, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and the imperatives of security.

    But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens.  It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice.  It doesn’t work if we think that our political opponents are unpatriotic or trying to weaken America.  Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise, or when even basic facts are contested, or when we listen only to those who agree with us.  Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get all the attention.  And most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest.

    Too many Americans feel that way right now.  It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency -- that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.  I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.

    But, my fellow Americans, this cannot be my task -- or any President’s -- alone.  There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber, good people who would like to see more cooperation, would like to see a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the imperatives of getting elected, by the noise coming out of your base.  I know; you’ve told me.  It's the worst-kept secret in Washington.  And a lot of you aren't enjoying being trapped in that kind of rancor. 

    But that means if we want a better politics -- and I'm addressing the American people now -- if we want a better politics, it’s not enough just to change a congressman or change a senator or even change a President.  We have to change the system to reflect our better selves.  I think we've got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around.  (Applause.)  Let a bipartisan group do it.  (Applause.) 

    We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families or hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections.  (Applause.)  And if our existing approach to campaign finance reform can’t pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution -- because it's a problem.  And most of you don't like raising money.  I know; I've done it.  (Applause.)  We’ve got to make it easier to vote, not harder.  (Applause.)  We need to modernize it for the way we live now.  (Applause.)  This is America:  We want to make it easier for people to participate.  And over the course of this year, I intend to travel the country to push for reforms that do just that.

    But I can’t do these things on my own.  (Applause.)  Changes in our political process -- in not just who gets elected, but how they get elected -- that will only happen when the American people demand it.  It depends on you.  That’s what’s meant by a government of, by, and for the people. 

    What I’m suggesting is hard.  It’s a lot easier to be cynical; to accept that change is not possible, and politics is hopeless, and the problem is all the folks who are elected don't care, and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter.  But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future.  Those with money and power will gain greater control over the decisions that could send a young soldier to war, or allow another economic disaster, or roll back the equal rights and voting rights that generations of Americans have fought, even died, to secure.  And then, as frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into our respective tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background.

    We can’t afford to go down that path.  It won’t deliver the economy we want.  It will not produce the security we want.  But most of all, it contradicts everything that makes us the envy of the world. 

    So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, whether you supported my agenda or fought as hard as you could against it -- our collective futures depends on your willingness to uphold your duties as a citizen.  To vote.  To speak out.  To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us. (Applause.)  We need every American to stay active in our public life -- and not just during election time -- so that our public life reflects the goodness and the decency that I see in the American people every single day. 

    It is not easy.  Our brand of democracy is hard.  But I can promise that a little over a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I will be right there with you as a citizen, inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that helped America travel so far.  Voices that help us see ourselves not, first and foremost, as black or white, or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born, not as Democrat or Republican, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed.  Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word -- voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love. 

    And they’re out there, those voices.  They don’t get a lot of attention; they don't seek a lot of fanfare; but they’re busy doing the work this country needs doing.  I see them everywhere I travel in this incredible country of ours.  I see you, the American people.  And in your daily acts of citizenship, I see our future unfolding.

    I see it in the worker on the assembly line who clocked extra shifts to keep his company open, and the boss who pays him higher wages instead of laying him off. 

    I see it in the Dreamer who stays up late at night to finish her science project, and the teacher who comes in early, and maybe with some extra supplies that she bought because she knows that that young girl might someday cure a disease.

    I see it in the American who served his time, and bad mistakes as a child but now is dreaming of starting over -- and I see it in the business owner who gives him that second chance.  The protester determined to prove that justice matters -- and the young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe.  (Applause.) 

    I see it in the soldier who gives almost everything to save his brothers, the nurse who tends to him till he can run a marathon, the community that lines up to cheer him on.

    It’s the son who finds the courage to come out as who he is, and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.  (Applause.) 

    I see it in the elderly woman who will wait in line to cast her vote as long as she has to; the new citizen who casts his vote for the first time; the volunteers at the polls who believe every vote should count -- because each of them in different ways know how much that precious right is worth.

    That's the America I know.  That’s the country we love.   Clear-eyed.  Big-hearted.  Undaunted by challenge.  Optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.  (Applause.)  That’s what makes me so hopeful about our future.  I believe in change because I believe in you, the American people.  

    And that’s why I stand here confident as I have ever been that the State of our Union is strong.  (Applause.) 

    Thank you.  God bless you.  God bless the United States of America. 

  • Bigelow Laboratory and Colby College collaborate with Tiny Giants exhibit

    Marine microbes produce half the oxygen we breathe. They are the base of the food chain, and without them the food source for billions of people would be threatened. Microbes also offer the potential for discoveries of new pharmaceuticals, nutritional supplements and fuel sources and the potential to mitigate the effects of climate change.

    They also are stunningly beautiful.

    The invisible world of marine microbes will be revealed through a photographic art exhibit at Colby College throughout the fall semester from Sept. 17-Dec. 17.

    Eighteen large images (up to five feet by four feet) make the invisible microscopic marine organisms visible, helping to tell the stories of the critical roles these tiny creatures play in planetary health and balance.

    “Our idea behind the Tiny Giants images was to pique people’s imaginations about the invisible creatures that we study that are vital to our very existence,” said Dr. Benjamin Twining, director of research and education at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay, where the exhibit was created. “Their visual depiction provides the opportunity for people to also learn about marine microbes. We are delighted that Colby College decided to take this a step further and explore microbes from a variety of vantage points, from using them as a muse for sculptural inspiration to examining how microbial knowledge might be used to help guide policy positions.”

    Colby professors in biology, environmental science, the humanities, art, theater and dance will use the exhibit as a launching point in their fall courses as they integrate the concept of invisible marine microbes into their respective disciplines.

    “We’re excited to show the images in the Tiny Giants exhibition on campus this fall” said Colby Provost and Dean of Faculty Lori G. Kletzer. “Colby’s strategic partnership with Bigelow Laboratory provides world-class opportunities in marine science and climate science for our students—we knew that. And now the unique aesthetic for examining the natural microbial world through these photos completely reinforces the interdisciplinary approach that both our institutions value so highly.”

    The Tiny Giants exhibit will formally opened with a reception in Miller Library on Colby’s campus on Thursday, Sept. 17th.

    Photographs will be on view at three campus locations through Dec. 17: at the Miller Library, Olin Science Library and the Davis Curricular Gallery in the Colby College Museum of Art.

    Participating Colby faculty members who will incorporate Tiny Giants into semester activities include the Julian D. Taylor Associate Professor of Classics and Director of Colby’s Center for the Arts and Humanities Kerill O’Neill, Professor of Science, Technology, and Society James R. Fleming, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Denise A. Bruesewitz, Assistant Professor of Art Bradley A. Borthwick, Associate Professor of Art Tanya R. Sheehan, Associate Professor of Biology Catherine R. Bevier, and Technical Director in Theater and Dance John E. Ervin.

    The art and science educational collaboration will conclude with an event in early December that will showcase students’ work inspired by Tiny Giants.

    The exhibit is free and open to the public during library hours and when the museum is open, and it offers an unprecedented opportunity to see the invisible—and the beauty and wonder of these diminutive creatures that play such an important role in keeping the planet balanced. The photos represent the technological and scientific achievement of capturing microscopic marine microbes that are invisible to the naked eye. Scientists at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences took the photographs at three different scales, using three different types of microscopes.

    Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, an independent not-for-profit research institution on the coast of Maine, conducts research ranging from microbial oceanography to large-scale ocean processes that affect the global environment. Recognized as a leader in Maine’s emerging innovation economy, the Laboratory’s research, education, and technology transfer programs are spurring significant economic growth in the state.

  • Help children have meals in Maine schools

    By Maine State Senator Justin Alfond

    Maine has the tools, grit to eliminate state’s quiet crisis of child hunger

    But the hurdles of filling out applications and the stigma that some feel need to be surmounted.

    It’s fall, and schools across our state have welcomed students back to the classroom. The start of the school year is an exciting time for every community, a time many of us look upon fondly. But while most students are ready to learn and do their best, some are facing a monumental challenge: hunger.

     The Maine Department of Education reported that 86,473 of all K-12 public school students in our state – roughly 47 percent – were food insecure, meaning that the child goes without one meal every day. These children are eligible to receive free or reduced-priced meals at school.

    Food insecurity is disastrous for children. Learning, concentration and discipline all suffer when a student hasn’t had enough to eat. Research has shown that children who experience hunger are more likely to struggle in school.

    Childhood hunger is a quiet crisis that’s affecting all of Maine, but there are simple things we all can do to address it.

    Last year, I co-chaired the bipartisan Task Force to End Student Hunger. We created a five-year blueprint to end student hunger in Maine. The first step is to enroll every eligible child in the USDA school meals program. Registration is critical for these students, and enrollment is happening right now at every school through Oct. 15.

    Here’s how it works:

    One of the many forms a parent gets at the beginning of a school year is a Meal Benefit Application, which determines a child’s eligibility for free and reduced-price food, which is provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Eligible students can receive school breakfast, lunch and after-school snacks every day school is in session, if they need them.

    But this year in Maine, many students won’t even apply. 

    Educators I’ve spoken with know that students in their classrooms qualify for help, which would ensure proper nutrition that may otherwise be unavailable. But year after year, they see these kids go without because they didn’t fill out the Meal Benefit Application.

    Some of the reasons for that missed opportunity are simple. The form can get lost in the shuffle of all the paperwork sent home during the first weeks of school, or could be filled out incorrectly. But the real obstacle is the stigma associated with receiving free or reduced-price meals.

    I know that Mainers are proud and independent people. Asking for help is not easy, and it’s never our first instinct. Plus, filling out this paperwork is deeply personal. Often, the completed form is delivered to a school leader the parents know personally.

    But registration is the make-or-break moment for a child in need of food at school. When a child isn’t signed up, not only does it mean they will be one of those hungry students that most likely will struggle in school, but it also means Maine forgoes $50 million in federal funding set aside to feed our children.

    So what can we all do?

    • First, learn about hunger in your community. In 2014, here in Cumberland County, more than one-third of students qualified for free or reduced-price school lunch, according to data from the Maine Children’s Alliance. In nine Maine counties, more than half the students qualify. Childhood hunger affects every single community in Maine and cuts across the political spectrum.

    • Next, call your local parent-teacher organization and see if child hunger is something they are working on, and volunteer to help if you can.

    • Finally, let’s come together and help break the stigma of accepting free and reduced-price meals. There is no shame in accepting help if you need it.

    I’m also excited to announce that Full Plates Full Potential, a statewide nonprofit targeting student hunger, will be focusing on increasing registration by testing best practices from around the country in a few Maine schools this fall.

    I urge everyone to get involved in ending childhood hunger in the community. Let’s make sure we get every eligible child registered this fall.

    No child should go hungry. Fortunately, Maine has all the tools and grit needed to solve this crisis.

    First appeared in the Portland Press Herald

     

     

  • Maine Legislation to help children with dyslexia becomes law

     A bill to make sure that schoolchildren with dyslexia get the assistance they need to succeed became law on Sunday.

    “When students with dyslexia are identified early and get the help they need, the results are incredible,” said Rep. Terry Morrison, D- South Portland, the lead sponsor of the measure. “We need to get these kids the proper support as soon as possible.”

    Dyslexia is a learning disability characterized by trouble reading despite a normal intelligence. Problems may include sounding out words, spelling words, reading quickly, writing words, pronouncing words when reading aloud and understanding what was read.

    “Dyslexia is serious, but it can be overcome with the right assistance at the right time,” said Rep. Denise Harlow, D-Portland, a co-sponsor. “This new law will help make sure that happens.”

    With proper assistance and personalized support, dyslexics can learn to read.  The earlier a dyslexic child is identified, the more successful the intervention.

    “This law will put the right tools in the hands of educators to identify and help students with dyslexia,” said Rep. Kim Monaghan, D-Cape Elizabeth, another co-sponsor.  “It will make a real difference.” 

    Some famous people who were diagnosed with dyslexia include Jay Leno, Steve Jobs and Pablo Picasso.

    “The costs, both emotional and financial, of not helping a student with dyslexia are very great,” said Rep. Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland, who also co-sponsored the measure.

    LD 231, which the Legislature passed on June 30, was among the measures that became law without the governor’s signature. The governor has 10 days, not including Sundays, to sign or veto a bill. If he does not take either of those actions, the bill becomes law if the Legislature has not finally adjournent. 

    The bill goes into effect 90 days after the Legislature finally adjourns. The Legislature will be in session on July 16 to address any vetoes issued by the governor as prescribed by the Maine Constitution.

  • The 7th UMaine Wind Blade Challenge continues to train students in growing industry

    By Ramona du Houx

    Chewonki Semester School students won first prize a the the 7th Annual Maine Wind Blade Challenge May 1, 2015 at the University of Maine.

    UMaine's Wind Blade Challenge was created to inspire, motivate, engage, and introduce students to the world of STEM education, composites and alternative energy with the purpose of building a strong workforce in the composite and alternative energy industries.

    Throughout the year students learn different aspects about the technology and how to apply it.

    At Infusion Day at SMCC on April 16th teams from Freeport, Bath Regional, and Chewonki schools learned how to apply composites to their blades.(photo above) The composites lab at SMCC was initially funded by voter approved bonds to train a new workforce in the growing field.

    Students who participated in past Wind Blade competitions are now working in the Maine composites, wind industry and/or continued their education in STEM fields.

    Photo: Students testing out their windblade designs before the competition

    The goals of the event are:

    To inspire learning through hands-on application with math, science and alternative energy.

    To motivate students and teachers to explore the use and application of composite materials in a safe guided atmosphere.

    To provide students experience with the most modern and clean composite manufacturing techniques.

    To foster relationships between high schools and higher education institutions, which provides composite material training and education.

    Participating Windblade Challenge students have continued their education at the following institutions:
    * The Boat School
    * The Landing School
    * Maine Maritime Academy
    * Northern Maine Community College
    * Southern Maine Community College
    * The University of Maine

    Some participants also pursued careers in the Maine composite industry, working at these and other businesses:
    *Kenway Corporation, Augusta
    *Custom Composites, Bath
    *Hodgdon Yachts, East Boothbay

  • Maine proposed law to ramp up Jobs for Maine’s Graduates- a proven model for college degree completion

    By Ramona du Houx

    A proposed law to increase Maine’s retention and degree attainment rate was unanimously supported by the state’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee today.

    The bill LD 215, “An Act To Improve Student Retention in Maine's Postsecondary Institutions,” would  improve student performance and reduce the amount of time to degree completion by expanding the Jobs for Maine’s Graduates’ (JMG) school-to-career transition model to postsecondary institutions.

    “JMG is the right partner for Maine college and university campuses to help meet the needs of some of our highest risk students and help them increase their chance at success in college,” said State Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond of Portland, the bill’s sponsor.

    Eligible students must have previously been enrolled in a JMG high school program, been in or currently in foster care, or older youth who have earned a high school equivalency diploma within the five years prior to obtaining these services.

    The measure has received resounding support from higher education leaders, the Maine State Chamber, students, Governor LePage’s Commissioner of Education, and the Maine Development Fund.

    During the public hearing, Nicole Padilla, a JMG Thomas College student from Milo said, “I am living proof that JMG really does believe in Maine students. At my lowest point, when I didn’t think I could afford to return to college, JMG was there to bring me back up, once more.”

    Padilla also participated in JMG’s program at Penquis Valley High School. During her testimony she said, “When I thought of furthering my education at Thomas College, I was scared. I thought I’d have to face college alone. But when I was informed that Thomas had the first ever college JMG program, I was ecstatic.”

    Beginning in the fall semester of 2014, Thomas College and JMG created a pilot program, funded by the Unity Foundation, to continue to provide the personal guidance and support offered by JMG at middle and high schools.

    Senator Alfond added, “JMG students are a success story across Maine’s middle and high schools. And now, as Maine tackles this issue of degree completion, it only makes sense that we would build upon a proven model and existing relationships.”

    The bill directs JMG’s to provide mentoring and counseling services, course guidance and graduation planning, peer support services and financial guidance to students and at Maine’s postsecondary institutions.

    • Student mentoring and counseling: A JMG Specialist will monitor student progress, including academic performance as well as connection to campus life.

    • Course guidance and development of a graduation plan: An individualized plan of action will be developed for each student, in consideration of academic needs, academic support, and self-assessment.

    • Peer-to-Peer Support: Staff will develop opportunities for peer-to-peer mentoring, including an alumni cohort approach as new youth are enrolled and leadership opportunities and connections to community resources

    • Financial guidance:  Students will be provided with navigational support to ensure a financial plan that maximizes all financial aid available to a student, including problems solving with short-term coverage emergencies such as alternative transportation, changes in housing arrangements, unexpected books or additional supplies needed for a course.

    The bill will now go to the Maine Senate for further consideration.

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