AUGUSTA — An early education bill that would provide more young Mainers with opportunities for success won initial House approval Feb. 27.
LD 1682, co-sponsored by Rep. Robert Saucier (D-Presque Isle), would restore funding for Head Start and childcare vouchers for low-income families. The measure has the support of a broad range of organizations that recognize the importance of children’s earliest years, both for the children themselves and their communities.
“Head Start serves Maine’s most at-risk children. We know it improves school readiness, educational achievement and health,” Saucier said. “Leaders in education, business, law enforcement and the military recognize the importance of early childhood for brain development. Smart investments in our kids pay off.”
The return on investment in early childhood development is 7.5 percent, according to Path to a Better Future: The Fiscal Payoff of Investment in Early Childhood in Maine, by University of Maine economist Philip Trostel. The report also found that high-quality preschool education for a low-income child saves taxpayers an average of $125,400 over the child’s lifetime — more than five times the initial investment.
“We want all of Maine’s children to have equal access to opportunities that build healthy development of their mental, physical and emotional well-being,” Saucier said. “Maine can create a brighter future for our children and their families.”
Drastic cuts in 2012 severed 226 Maine families from access to this key early childhood program. That year, state support for Head Start fell from $2.44 million to $440,000.
Maine families also lost access to more than $3 million in federal money when the state cut its match to the Child Care Development Fund by $1.9 million. The fund helps low-income parents remain in the workforce by providing access to childcare. The loss of funding resulted in waiting lists for vouchers.
The bill would build on the funding that was restored by the Legislature for fiscal year 2014. It would provide $2 million for Head Start, set up a formula for distribution of the funds, and draw down $3 million in federal CCDF funds.
The Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Maine Children’s Alliance, the United Way, the Maine Women’s Lobby and Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, an organization of law enforcement officials and violence survivors, are among those who agree that it makes sense to invest in children’s earliest years.
The House gave its OK by unanimous consent Feb. 27. The bill faces further action in the House and Senate.