In Maine, 1,250 children under the age of three are enrolled in Early Head Start, and data from the state department of education shows an increase in pre-kindergarten program enrollment for the seventh year in a row. Unfortunately, less than 30 percent of Head Start-eligible children are receiving services. This year, the number of students enrolled in public pre-kindergarten programs jumped from 4,887 students to 5,004 students. Additionally, the average annual cost of center-based infant care in the state is $9,360. Meanwhile, Maine’s Educare program is viewed as a model of success in early childhood education and the “best pre-k program in the state.” Currently, 60 percent of the state’s 172 school districts offer some kind of pre-kindergarten program, but many communities are unable to afford offering a program to children. Soon, plans to use $4 million in funds from casino revenues will help alleviate the primary obstacles affecting preschool expansion in Maine, including first year costs.
- What the governor is saying: A measure to expand early childhood education in Maine, LD 1530, became law at the end of April without Gov. Paul LePage’s signature. The law makes casino revenues available as startup funding to school districts wanting to offer a voluntary pre-K program, and establishes a stakeholder group to develop quality standards, best practices and common assessments. Early childhood is shaping up to be part of the next Maine gubernatorial race, as well, with candidates highlighting the importance of investments in early education.
- What’s happening in the legislature: Both chambers of the legislature approved the pre-kindergarten expansion bill that will use casino revenues to expand early childhood education to schools that don’t currently offer such programs. The bill, which went into effect in August, authorizes the Commissioner of Education to provide grant funding beginning in the 2015-2016 school year and each subsequent school year thereafter to qualified school administrative units to implement plans to develop and operate public preschool programs. The bill further establishes the state’s goal to provide adequate funding to ensure that public preschool programs for children 4 years of age are offered by all school administrative units by the 2018-2019 school years.
- Funding increases and additional support: In FY15-16, $4 million in funds from casino revenues will address the first year start-up costs of preschool expansion.