Maine currently has two promising opportunities to invest in our state’s future by making high-quality early education accessible to more of our youngest learners.

One opportunity is Gov. Janet Mills’ proposal to invest $10 million in grants for expanding public pre-kindergarten programs, with a focus on partnerships between schools and community providers, and an additional $10 million to renovate and build more child care facilities with federal COVID-19 relief funds.

The second is the Biden administration’s American Families Plan to assist with funding so that states may offer preschool to all 3- and 4-year-old children. Together, these plans will increase access, strengthen program quality and, ultimately, address critical economic challenges in Maine. Because of the positive, long-term impact on our state’s economy and workforce, Educate Maine and ReadyNation support increased public investment in pre-kindergarten and child care programs.

Decades of research shows that children who attend high-quality early education programs have improved student outcomes throughout their schooling. They are more likely to complete high school, pursue a post-secondary degree or credential, and succeed in the workplace. Investing in early education is key to a strong economy.

High-quality early education builds stronger communities, people, families, businesses, leaders, and workers. It all starts with early learning — a critical stage when kids build the foundation and skills that set the trajectory for their future success in school and life. This is particularly true for economically-disadvantaged and high-risk children.

For all of these reasons, Maine is currently committed to offering public pre-kindergarten for all 4-year-olds who want to attend. Both the governor’s proposal and the White House’s American Families Plan will help Maine achieve this goal, by developing a voluntary, mixed delivery, federal-state pre-kindergarten system that will ensure equitable access to quality programs, emphasize choice for parents, incorporate existing successful options like Head Start and established state and community or faith-based pre-kindergarten programs, and prioritize enrollment of children from low- to moderate-income families.

Pre-kindergarten access is also essential to meet Maine’s child care needs so that parents can continue working, particularly at this time when COVID-19 has exacerbated Maine’s workforce shortage. We must be thoughtful in expanding pre-kindergarten and child care and do this critical work in a way that addresses the financial realities in our child care system and make balanced investments in both programs.

Beyond the financial realities of early childhood programs, pre-kindergarten and child care must be considered together, as they are both critical tools for kids’ healthy educational and social-emotional development. As legislative proposals move forward, it will be important for lawmakers to prioritize considerations around parent choice and a mixed-delivery system. We also need to think comprehensively about our entire early childhood system to ensure that various programs are working together to provide families the options and continuum of programs that best meet their needs.

The pre-kindergarten investments proposed by Gov. Mills and the Biden Administration will have a larger, combined impact than what may be seen on the surface. These investments will reduce the increasing burden on Maine’s child care system, help support parents and guardians in today’s workforce, and provide the solid early educational foundations every child deserves, thereby helping to secure a larger and stronger future workforce.

These investments will help achieve Maine’s critical workforce and education goals, including the Mills administration’s strategic plan to add 75,000 people to Maine’s workforce by 2029, and the MaineSpark coalition’s goal to ensure the share of adult workers with a postsecondary credential of value in demand by Maine employers reaches 60% by 2025.

High-quality pre-kindergarten truly sets the stage for kids to succeed throughout their lives. Today’s pre-kindergarten kids are tomorrow’s elementary-, middle-, and high-school students, college and trade school graduates, and, eventually, parents, guardians, community and business leaders, workforce, and entrepreneurs. We all have a stake in making sure every Maine kid gets a strong start.

Together, the Mills’ and Biden administrations’ strategic plans encourage increased federal investment in pre-kindergarten and child care and will help our state achieve its long-term economic goals. These plans will help Maine continue to build a stronger education system, ensuring a robust workforce, more prosperous people, vibrant communities, and a thriving Maine economy and future.

Jason Judd is executive director of Educate Maine and a ReadyNation member.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.