Voluntary public preschool to expand in Maine

EDUCARE Central Maine 2011Legislation to significantly expand voluntary, public preschool in Maine, LD 1530, became law this week without Governor LePage’s signature. When implemented, the law will establish high standards and encourage community collaboration for public preschool programs (pre-K). In addition, $4 million in start-up funds from Casino revenues will address the primary obstacle to preschool expansion in Maine – first year start up costs.

Mainers have a long tradition of working together to solve tough problems. If we want Maine’s future to be in good hands, we need to develop a strong bench—a generation of young people who can lead our communities and grow our economy. Scientists say that the best way to do this is to provide kids with stable, responsive relationships and positive learning experiences—conditions that literally build the architecture of the maturing brain.

State leaders recognized this when they passed, with broad bipartisan support, legislation to expand voluntary preschool in Maine. Preparing Maine for a strong future means that our youngest citizens must get what they need today to become the adults who will strengthen our communities and build our economy.

Fortunately, what our children need is not a mystery. The early years are a time when the brain is literally building itself from the ground up. When children have enriching experiences early in life, this gives them the strong foundation they need for all the learning and development that follows. That’s why a major expansion of public preschool is so important.time

Numerous Maine schools already have a preschool program that is working well.  The bill continues Maine’s commitment to coordination and collaboration with existing early childhood programs, such as Head Start, in order to maximize resources and provide comprehensive services that we know produce outcomes for young children and their families. The bill also directs the Maine Department of Education to work with a stakeholder group to develop public preschool program standards in Maine to ensure quality programming.

There are many people who played key roles in the passage of the bill, which was a true bi-partisan effort. It was supported by diverse champions, including members of Maine’s law enforcement community from Fight Crime Invest in Kids, representatives from United Way organizations across the state, the Maine Chamber of Commerce, directors of Head Start in Maine, current and former military leaders from Mission Readiness, and partners such as the Maine Women’s Lobby from our coalition of Start ME Right. Most importantly, we wish to especially thank the state legislators on the Education Committee who worked tirelessly on this effort.  Up until the very last days of the legislative session, members worked with Commissioner Jim Rier and his staff to craft legislation that the Department and members could support in order to pass the bill. They recognized the importance of investing early and made this effort one of their top priorities of the legislative session.

During a snowy morning in December, a number of legislators, including the Chairs of Education Committee, visited Educare Central Maine for a tour that demonstrated what high quality early education for children starting at birth really looks like and means to Maine’s children and families. We believe this experience helped to galvanize the Chairs, Senator Rebecca Millett and Representative Bruce MacDonald, who showed great resolve in playing leadership roles to garner support and final passage of the bill.

This law signals how far we’ve come in recognizing that access to high quality early education benefits all children in Maine, and is especially beneficial to the most disadvantaged students. We will continue to provide updates as work to create the standards and regulations for the law progress later in the year.

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