FALMOUTH — Our short Maine summer has come to an end, and yellow buses are back on the road carrying our children to school all over the state.

Many kids look forward to summer vacation and greet the new school year with both anticipation and a pang of sadness. But those summer months away from the classroom can lead to learning loss that put students behind when they return in the fall. This is especially true for children from economically disadvantaged homes.

For some kids, summer is the perfect time for the kind of learning that takes place outside the classroom. This can be at quality day care programs or summer camps, or with parents who have the time and means to expose their kids to educational opportunities.

But not all students have equal access to these enriching experiences. For many Maine students, the last bell before summer vacation means they face months without structured learning programs, healthy meals, fitness activities or adequate adult supervision.

The learning loss that occurs during summer months has been well documented. It is most pronounced in the area of mathematics, but reading skills can decline significantly as well.

Kids from all backgrounds can lose some ground when they toss their backpacks aside for the summer, but studies have found that youth from low-income homes have a much steeper decline. They can find themselves as much as two or three months behind when they return to school in the fall.

This is not just about kids missing out; it’s also about our state’s economic future. An internship at a science lab could spark an interest in scientific research. A robotics program could lead to a future career in the tech industry.

Hands-on work at a community garden could help young people develop valuable social skills and understand the importance of giving back. Trips to the museum and libraries could open new doors that help encourage kids to stay in school and put them on a path to graduation.

A 15-year study by the New England Journal of Higher Education found that up to two-thirds of the difference between low-income and middle-income youth in key academic success measures, such as high school graduation, participation in advanced coursework and college completion rates, can be traced back to the summer learning loss that occurred during elementary school.

In Maine, where child poverty continues to rise and as many as 55 percent of Maine schoolchildren are eligible for free or reduced-price school lunch, we need to find effective ways to address the achievement gap, give all Maine kids the opportunity to succeed and build a foundation for our state’s economy.

I submitted a bill last session to bolster summer programs for Maine students. L.D. 419 will be taken up when the Legislature reconvenes in January. It would work with schools to develop summer academic options either as stand-alone offerings at a local library or community center, or through partnerships with established community organizations.

The unique nature of summer programs means they can be flexible and creative, and put resources to use for the community they serve.

An example of a well-established program is run by Boys & Girls Clubs of Maine, which serves almost 15,000 youths through 16 sites across the state. Their Brain Gain program has already proven to successfully address summer reading loss.

Last year, Brain Gain reached a total of 238 students in Maine, who returned to the classroom with increased confidence. They are seeking to expand the program to reach hundreds more children, and my bill would help make that possible.

Children need ongoing opportunities to grow and learn. When kids are exposed to new learning experiences, it can give them an edge that will help them compete down the road. A simple investment could make a lifetime of difference for a Maine student, for the health of our communities and the strength of our economy in the years to come.

We need to ensure that all students have the chance to reach their full potential. It’s what we need to move our state forward.