The Maine Sunday Telegram’s July 26 editorial – “Our View: To break cycle of poverty, start with Maine kids” – aptly discusses the impact of poverty on Maine’s children.

As members of the Maine Early Learning Investment Group, we agree that early intervention is necessary to break the cycle of poverty, and we believe that this intervention should take the form of investments in early childhood education.

During the first few years of life, the brain is wired for lifelong learning and is more receptive and responsive to experiences (both good and bad) than it will ever be again.

Stress factors such as poverty can interrupt successful early brain wiring and learning potential. As a result, children are not “school ready” when they enter kindergarten. Their emotional and social skill development is impaired, leading to a significant achievement gap between them and their less-disadvantaged peers. The gap also costs us in real dollars that we fund to remediate between 15 and 18 percent of K-12 students.

There is a universe of economic and brain development research that demonstrates that investing in early childhood development can prevent this achievement gap, improve child health outcomes, increase earning potential and provide a rate of return that makes it a good investment.

In his 2013 report “Path to a Better Future: The Fiscal Payoff of Investment in Early Childhood Development in Maine,” University of Maine economics professor Philip Trostel concludes, “The real fiscal internal rate of return on public investment in high-quality early childhood education in Maine is, conservatively, 7.5 percent” – including savings in areas such as remedial education, public assistance and corrections and an increase in tax revenues.

AN EARLY EDUCATION MODEL

Effective investments in early childhood development involve partnering with parents, a child’s first and most important teachers, and supporting quality teacher-child interactions.

The Maine Early Learning Investment Group is working with Educare Central Maine, a state-of-the-art early learning and teaching center in Waterville that integrates Early/Head Start, quality child care and public preschool service into one comprehensive program and family support system.

Together, they’ll be implementing a rural, replicable model for a coordinated birth-to-kindergarten-entry high-quality early care and education system, starting in the Skowhegan area. The MELIG and Educare replication project, referred to as Elevate Maine, is a part of a larger federal grant that Educare and its partner agency Kennebec Valley Community Action Program won this year.

Over the next five years, MELIG’s Elevate Maine initiative will support rural family child care and child care center providers serving disadvantaged infants, toddlers and preschoolers and their families. According to the most recent, comprehensive Maine Public Health Home Visiting Report, Somerset County has more negative risk factors, including poverty and child maltreatment, than any county in Maine.

CLOSING THE ACHIEVEMENT GAP

Elevate Maine’s goal is to close the achievement gap for more than 100 children in the Skowhegan project by the time they enter kindergarten. This will be accomplished by:

 Elevating the providers’ teaching practices through intensive coaching and training supports.

Increasing family engagement and parent education.

Providing comprehensive services such as nutritional and health education and supports.

Evaluating teacher, child and family outcomes.

Supporting family stability and progress toward greater self-sufficiency.

Elevate Maine’s goal is to also replicate Educare’s 2013-2014 evaluation results, which showed that 97 to 100 percent of low-income children enrolled in Educare’s full-day, full-year program for the past four years met all growth and school-readiness benchmarks upon starting kindergarten.

One hundred percent of the parents of these children worked and/or were enrolled in educational programs at least 30 hours weekly.

As employers, we recognize the need for a workforce that is competitive and fully capable and we want access to top Maine-based talent.

Like many Mainers, we want solutions to poverty, and we are committed to demonstrating the impact and return on investment that can result from high-quality early care and education.

We agree with Philip Trostel, the UMaine economist, that the primary benefit of investing in high-quality early childhood education is “healthier and more productive, prosperous and fulfilling lives for Maine children.” We invite Maine business leaders and investors to join us in this important endeavor.