Every Maine student deserves an opportunity to have a college experience. Valerie Williams, federal director of the Office of Special Education Programs, says college is for everyone.

Our state currently offers 2021-2025 graduating seniors free community college. For students with cognitive disabilities, this opportunity is not available. Maine has as many as 35 accredited college programs but only one, St. Joseph’s College, is accessible to those with cognitive disabilities.

When presented with L.D. 2166, a modest bill to provide grant funding to five Maine colleges, to create such programing, lawmakers on the Appropriations Committee refused to even take up the bill for a vote. This happened despite the bill receiving no opposition, unanimous bipartisan committee support, bipartisan House and Senate support, support from three state departments, the University of Maine System, the community college system, St. Joseph’s College, and countless advocates. Additionally, the bill presented a full sustainability plan that did not include future state funding.

For those of who believe college is not for this population, digest these numbers: Florida has 26 programs, Massachusetts has 30 and the University of New Hampshire has a program.

When presenting the news of the demise of this bill to my 17-year-old, who has Down Syndrome, she burst into tears and responded “I’m not going to college?” Not giving this bill its full due process sends the message that equitable access for those with cognitive disabilities in our state is not important. Shame on these legislators — our community deserves better.

Carrie Woodcock

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