Maine Senate President Troy Jackson announced a new bill Friday that he says will increase access to quality child care for Maine's most vulnerable families. It has the backing of several educators, child advocates and businesses, who say that improving child care is critical for both Maine families and for the state’s economy.
When Kaitlin Taylor of Skowhegan first became a mom in 2011, she was a senior in high school, and didn’t know how she would graduate, find care for her baby or get a job. Today she has her diploma, is in job training and her youngest of three is ready to enter kindergarten. Taylor says that trajectory has been shaped by a community program that not only gave her access to quality child care, but taught her parenting and professional skills as well.
"I'm so happy and so proud of where I am from where I came from,” Taylor says. “I came from a single parent household. None of my family has done much with their life, no offense to them, it's just we didn't have the supports we needed for schooling, so having those extra supports really made a big difference."
The program that Taylor and her children used is similar to what is proposed in a new bill sponsored by Jackson, which he unveiled at the Educare Child Development Center in Waterville. Jackson says the measure would create the First 4 ME Early Care and Education Program and establish 10 pilot projects in communities throughout the state.
"It's about laying the groundwork to end Maine child care deserts once and for all,” Jackson says. “And it's about knowing that while you are at work, your child is getting ready for kindergarten. And it’s about supporting our child care workers, growing this workforce, and knowing that the child care community has their back."
The pilot projects — sponsored by coalitions of community stakeholders — would integrate local resources to support and build skills for kids and their parents. Those stakeholders would include child care educators, health care providers and business leaders.
Portland-area businessman Jim Clair, who is co-chair of the Maine Early Learning Investment Group, says access to quality child care is an economic imperative.
"This ultimately has to be a partnership between the public sector, the private sector and the nonprofit sector, so we can get the best possible results for these kids," he says.
The First 4 ME Early Care and Education Program would also boost pay and support for child care providers. Morgan Harris runs a family child care business in Fairfield. She has a partnership with the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, which has provided enough financial support for her to hire another teacher and install a natural playground.
"I also get a weekly visit from my coordinator, and those weekly visits have become invaluable because it's such a great time to touch base on curriculum, touch base on behavior problems or family or child issues."
Childrens' advocates say the beauty of the proposal is that it allows communities to design programs that best serve their local needs. But it's unclear how much it would all cost, and how many new child care slots it would create. Senator Jackson says those details are still being worked out, but that the return on investment would be huge, and something that Maine can't afford not to do.
Originally published Jan. 17, 2020