Restore investments in early childhood

The following statement was made by Mary Henderson (MCA’s Senior Policy Analyst) during a press conference regarding the restoration of state funds to Head Start, Child Care Subsidies & Home Visiting.

boy_headstartWhether Maine will have a prosperous future depends in large part on our ability to raise strong, bright, compassionate children who can serve tomorrow’s communities. They must be better at critical thinking, creative problem solving, calm negotiating, careful analyzing and life long learning than earlier generations if they are to rise to the challenges of the future and our interconnected world. And if we expect solid outputs, we have to invest in solid inputs.

The good news is that the latest science tells us exactly how to invest – we must help parents to provide young children, beginning right at birth, with healthy, nurturing experiences that literally build the brain’s architecture. This “brain building” happens through frequent, engaging and guided interactions with caring adults and the world around them.

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Evidence in Maine indicates we must make better and smarter investments in our children. In 2011, 30% of Maine fourth grade children could not read at a basic level; 68% – over two-thirds — were not proficient readers.[1] Of these non-proficient fourth graders, the data predicts that 16% of them will not graduate from high school on time. If they lived in poverty for at least a year, one-in-four will not graduate from high school on time.[2] And these days in Maine, almost a fifth of our children are living in poverty. All in all, this does not bode well for the future of thousands of our children or for the future of Maine’s communities unless we invest now.

Assisted by the Fund for a Healthy Maine, Maine over the years has been stretching its federal grants to patch together early childhood programs that respond to the science of brain development. Maine Families Home Visiting and Early Head Start programs have been targeting families with infants and toddlers to screen and catch developmental delays early. They help parents learn how to promote healthy development and how to protect children from toxic stress that can derail development. In the private sector, licensed child care centers are voluntarily upgrading their standards to meet established statewide quality rating standards. Child development professionals dream of a future when unlicensed family and friend providers can receive basic information in the science of child development and licensed providers and pre-kindergarten teachers are adequately credentialed and paid a reasonable wage so that turnover can be reduced.

girl_purseBut recently the progress has been deferred. Instead, huge state budget cuts have caused staff to be laid off, classrooms to go empty, children at risk to go undetected, and working families to go without affordable, quality child care. Since 2011 over $9 million dollars – about two-thirds of our state’s investment in early childhood programs has been cut.

  • Maine Families Home Visiting was cut entirely from the Fund for a Healthy Maine between 2011 and 2013 – to the tune of $4.9 million.
  • Early Head Start was cut in 2012 by over $2 million in the General Fund.
  • Child Care subsidies – vouchers that help low income parents afford child care so they can go to work – was cut by $1.97 million dollars in 2012, which will cause the state to lose an additional $3 million per year in federal block grant dollars.

We are here to support two bills that would restore the worst of these budget cuts. LD 517 would restore the lost Head Start dollars. LD 1383 does that and restores dollars to Home Visiting, subsidized child care,  and contains provisions designed to put us back on track to improving early childhood education for young children and families.

These days our economy pushes more and more parents to rely on child care providers to care for their children while they work. In Maine, 66% of families with children under age 6 have every parent in the household working. This is a challenge, but also an opportunity to invest in Maine’s children while their brains are in those critical early years of development, when the return on that investment is huge. We urge the legislature and the Governor to “pay it forward” – restore our investments in early childhood. It will change the trajectory of childrens’ lives and offer a better future for the state.

Resources for advocates:

[2] Hernandez, D.J., Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2012).


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