The Maine legislature is considering a number of measures aimed at expanding public pre-K programs.
One would direct the state Department of Education to begin developing recommendations, with a goal that every school district offer preschool to four-year-olds by the 2020-21 school year. Two other bills would require the state to provide at least half the cost of public preschool.
In testimony before the Education Committee Wednesday, Democratic State Sen. Rebecca Millett said the legislation would help to ease the financial burden on local districts that would be required to set up or expand pre-K.
“If we are serious about making sure that all children have the opportunity for quality early learning, then we need to remove this financial barrier - such that it benefits our state and our children, no matter the zip code," Millett says.
The Maine Women's Lobby and representatives from law enforcement and school administration also spoke in support of the measures. Whitney Parrish of the Maine Women's Lobby says that expanding public preschool will help young students and their families.
"Making funds available for towns to use towards starting up their own public preschools is a direct effort towards make Maine a hospitable place for young, working families," Parrish says.
The Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative advocacy group, opposes the bills, citing concerns about the potential costs to taxpayers.
Gov. Janet Mills has declared universal Pre-K a goal of her administration, and included funding in her proposed budget for expansion of the program.
Originally published 4:04 p.m. May 1, 2019