WATERVILLE — Senate President Troy Jackson addressed a gathering of parents, business leaders and child care providers at Educare on Friday morning about a bill aimed at expanding and improving child care that was carried over into the current legislative session.

Jackson said the main goal of the bill, LD 1760, is to end Maine’s “child care deserts” and create access to quality childcare for every resident of the state.

“Unfortunately dropping off your kid is now only half of the challenge,” Jackson said. “It’s even harder to find a child care facility that’s affordable, and you can make sure that your kids get what they need to be ready for kindergarten, or a facility that has an open spot … So this bill is ending Maine’s child care deserts. It’s expanding access to quality child care in Maine while opening up new child care centers, improving quality and building a strong child care workforce.”

The bill intends to create the First 4 ME Early Care and Education Program under the Department of Health and Human Services that will provide quality early child care services for at-risk children under the age of 6 who haven’t entered kindergarten yet. As parents have access to quality child care, they, too, will be in a better position to pursue education and work opportunities.

A statement released Friday afternoon said that “the project works with providers to open slots in family child care homes or child care centers and provides coaching and additional support to providers.”

The bill calls for funding projects sponsored by coalitions of stakeholders, providers and other community members in the communities that the projects serve. Contractors will staff the operations and contract with community providers of health care, education or parenting services.

The bill also directs the Department of Health and Human Services to request proposals for up to 10 pilot projects to implement the program that will commence June 1, 2021.

“It’s about knowing when you’re at work your child is getting ready for kindergarten,” said Jackson, and Aroostook County Democrat. “It’s about supporting Maine child care workers and making sure that the child care community knows that we have their back.

“You can’t have a strong economy in Maine without strong child care for the people in it.”

Troy Jackson, president of the Maine Senate, shares a moment with Educare student Nyeim Warren, 4, during a tour of the school in Waterville on Friday. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Kaitlin Taylor, a mother of three from Skowhegan who has benefited firsthand from quality childcare, tied the intent of the bill to provide quality child care to business interests.

“This bill is extremely important,” Taylor said. “It’s for all of Maine. This bill will not only help Maine families, but it will also help Maine businesses by providing quality support and care for the families allowing workers to stay within our state. They don’t have to leave to make sure that their kids are okay. This bill will give the programs that we have the necessary funds that will further support the Maine families.”

Taylor said that the programs her children have attended, North Elementary Pre-K and Skowhegan Early Head Start, benefited her children, herself and her entire family.

“I wouldn’t be able to better myself if I didn’t know my kids were OK where they were,” Taylor said. “If it wasn’t for these programs, I would not have graduated high school if I didn’t know my daughter was OK where she was. My family wouldn’t be where they are today.”

“For districts like ours,” said Jonathan Moody, assistant superintendent for School Administrative District 54, based in Skowhegan, “these partnerships for early learning help close the gap for children with special needs, and increase the readiness and healthy development of some of our youngest learners.”

Morgan Harris, a child care provider in Fairfield, said, “I’ve been doing this work for five years, and I’ve never not had an extensive waitlist.”

The bill is expected to incur costs for the state, the release acknowledged, but said public-private and federal dollars are being leveraged to pay for the program.

The current program the bill is based upon, Elevate Maine, is a partnership between the Maine Early Learning Investment Group and Educare Central Maine, which is based in Skowhegan and doesn’t use taxpayer dollars.

Friday’s presentation echoed an address on the state’s 10-year strategic economic plan by State Commissioner Heather Johnson during a business breakfast at Thomas College on Jan. 9.

“On occasion, I’ll get someone asking: ‘Well, why do you care about child care? You are economic development,’” Johnson said. “But we just got a call two weeks ago from a company in Aroostook County that was having to close for three weeks because a local child care closed, and that affected their employees so much that they couldn’t operate. So we need to be supportive. These pieces are all so intertwined.”

A representative at the Maine Senate Republican Office expects the office to address the bill next week.

The bill is set to have a public hearing before the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee later this session.


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