A recent study found that there are thousands more needy young children in Maine than funded slots in the state’s Early Head Start programs, which provide holistic services for low-income families with children up to age 2, as well as prenatal care.

While each Early Head Start program in the state already has a waiting list, Head Start agencies statewide are facing a potential $1.8 million cut to their budgets in Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed state spending plan.

“That will absolutely devastate the program in Maine,” said Sue Powers, who has chaired the Maine Head Start Directors’ Association since November. “Without that funding on July 1, there will be at least 83 children in Maine that will have Early Head Start discontinued.”

Supporters of early childhood programs such as Head Start point to research that shows the children go on to have better lives in a variety of ways, providing higher rates of return on investments in their communities.

“I would hope that policymakers would have an understanding that for the future success of children in school, the biggest impact they could make is to invest in that age range,” Powers said.

A researcher at the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire recently released a study that found only 837 funded slots for Early Head Start in Maine, but more than 8,000 children living in poverty who would be eligible for the program.

Jessica Carson, a vulnerable-families research scientist at the university, said she has partnered with the John T. Gorman Foundation in Portland to better understand Early Head Start and Head Start in the state.

“I think Early Head Start is an important piece of the picture when it comes to thinking about the lives of vulnerable families,” Carson said. “It’s certainly not the only part of the early childhood education system” that is “really struggling systematically from underinvestment” across the country.

Carson said she used U.S. Census data from the American Community Survey to determine how many children up to age 2 were potentially eligible for Early Head Start based on their families’ income levels.

But that number doesn’t count the children who lie in the 100 percent-to-130 percent poverty range or who struggle with disabilities or community-specific problems, and it also doesn’t include eligible pregnant women.

Madeline St. Amour can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:

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