Sen. Cathy Breen, a Falmouth Democrat, is urging Republican members of the Legislative Council to support her bill to help the state’s only school for the deaf fulfil its mission to educate students who are deaf and hard-of-hearing.
Sen. Breen’s bill, LR 2269, “An Act to Promote Private Fundraising for the Governor Baxter School for the Deaf,” was initially rejected in a party-line vote during the Legislative Council’s meeting on Oct. 22. All Democrats supported her bill, and all Republicans opposed it.
“I trust that with all the information in front of them, my Republican colleagues will support this commonsense solution for the Baxter School,” Sen. Breen said. “This bill will simply level the playing field by allowing the school to engage donors who want to see the school succeed.”
The school, now called the Maine Educational Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing, recently embarked on a fundraising drive only to learn that state law bars them from soliciting and accepting private funds. MECDHH is a one-of-a-kind institution in the state and is involved in serving deaf and hard of hearing students all over Maine.
“The Maine Educational Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing has numerous unmet needs for children with hearing loss and their families whom we serve statewide,” said David Sherry, the school’s executive director. “The ability to respond to those needs is critical to the agency’s mission. Currently, because of a state statute prohibiting us from raising money outside of the state’s appropriation, we are unable to meet those needs. Sen. Breen’s bill provides the Center with an opportunity to engage in private fundraising to support our comprehensive mission. We hope the legislative leadership will see this bill as worthy of emergency action.”
Other public schools in Maine are allowed to conduct this kind of fundraising, and Sen. Breen’s bill would simply create the same opportunity for MECDHH. A nonprofit foundation is already willing and able to act as the Center's fiscal agent.
“The current law amounts to needless red tape preventing this school from expanding and improving the education opportunities that deaf students deserve,” Sen. Breen said. “I can really see no good reason to oppose this bill.”
Bills for the second session must be allowed in by the Legislative Council, a body comprised of the top five Democrats and top five Republicans in the Legislature. Given the split makeup of the Council, bipartisan support is needed for any bill to advance to the Legislature.
The Legislative Council will meet to consider appeals on November 19.