THUMBS DOWN to the failure of a bill that would have allowed school districts to intervene when a young student is missing too much school.

L.D. 311, sponsored by Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, died after Gov. Paul LePage’s veto was upheld by a slim margin in the state Senate last week.

The bill would have lowered from 7 years old to 5 the age at which children may be considered truant, providing schools with an opportunity to step in when a pre-K or kindergarten student has too many absences.

That occurs when a child moves around a lot, or if they or their parents have chronic mental or physical health issues that require frequent doctor visits. It also happens when parents don’t see the value of uninterrupted attendance at the earliest grade levels.

And it happens a lot.

According to research by Spurwink, a Portland-based social services agency, between 4 percent and 8 percent of elementary school children in Cumberland County missed 18 or more days of school — about 10 percent of the school year — during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years.


In Lewiston, where school officials have been actively addressing chronic absenteeism, 16 percent of pre-kindergarten students and 14 percent of kindergartners missed 10 percent of school days or more last year.

Those early days of school are valuable to students, for learning the basics, building good habits and figuring out how work with others. And students who miss a lot of school early on are much more likely to drop out before graduation.

It is the parents’ responsibility to get their children to school regularly. But many parents shirk that duty, and the kids pay the price. In those cases, school officials should be able to step in.

LePage in his veto letter said the bill “would interfere with the rights of parents to decide when their children are ready for school.”

But the bill still would have allowed parents to decide when their children start school, or if they want to homeschool.

The bill’s targets were the parents who allow their kids to fall behind. They are the problem, and just hoping they become better parents isn’t going to help the kids.


THUMBS UP to a bill that would use a general fund bond to help reduce student debt.

L.D. 784, from Augusta Republican Rep. Matthew Pouliot, would use $5 million in bond money to help Maine residents refinance or consolidate student loans.

With all the focus on the budget, land bonds, veto threats and welfare reform, the issue hasn’t gotten much attention, but it can’t be ignored.

Maine has the seventh-highest student loan debt burden in the country, with graduating seniors in 2013 carrying an average of $29,934 in debt, and the state’s debt-to-median-income ratio is the 11th-highest in the country, meaning Maine residents have less income that others to pay off higher-than-average debt. That keeps graduates from buying houses and starting businesses, and it forces them to rack up credit debt to stay afloat, furthering handcuffing their future.

Other initiatives are necessary to fix this problem, including efforts to ensure that more of the Mainers who start college actually earn a degree, and that they do not overpay for that degree.

Pouliot’s plan is a good way to help college graduates from Maine stay and thrive in our state.


THUMBS DOWN to a report leaked out of the Transportation Security Administration that showed undercover agents were able to smuggle prohibited items, such as mock explosives or weapons, through airport checkpoints in 67 of 70 attempts.

The report came with no added context, so it is hard to tell whether these shortfalls are limited to certain airports or if the problems are widespread.

But the report strongly suggests that the extra layers of security added following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, are doing little more than inconveniencing travelers.

The TSA has to address this report directly and be open about what this means for airport security. And they have to regain our confidence that the agency can keep air travel safe.

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