February 14, 2013

Maine could see early-childhood education grow

President Obama's proposal would mean a significant expansion of such programs in the state.

By Noel K. Gallagher ngallagher@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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click image to enlarge

In this October 2010 file photo, Aaliyah Mills reads to preschoolers at Portland Arts and Technology School in Portland. President Obama's proposal to provide quality early-childhood education to all children, including preschool for all 4-year-olds, would mean a significant expansion of those programs in Maine, where only about 60 percent of public school districts now offer pre-kindergarten classes.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

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The Republican chairman of the House committee that oversees education policy, Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., was cool toward the proposal and unlikely to support new spending on it.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage's office did not respond to calls for comment.

Head Start providers in Maine praised Obama's plan for increased investment in early Head Start programs, which serve children from birth through age 3, and the new competitive grants for providers.

"Assuming the money comes, it would be a great investment," said Doug Orville, chairman of the Maine Head Start Directors Association.

About 3,000 children are in Maine Head Start programs, and there is a waiting list of about 1,400 children as of a few weeks ago, Orville said.

Head Start in Maine serves children from birth to age 5 whose family income is at or below 100 percent of the poverty level, $19,538 for a family of three.

One million children are served by Head Start programs every year nationwide, and receive services including dental and health screenings, home visits to help families, and as many as two full meals a day.

Last year, the state cut Head Start funds by $2 million, prompting some programs to lay off child care providers and close classrooms.

That was the case at Educare Central Maine in Waterville, where the president's plan was welcome news Thursday.

"I am very excited to hear that (early-childhood education) is on the top of his agenda," said site manager Rhonda Kaiser.

That program serves about 200 children and has a waiting list of more than 50 infants and toddlers. The state cutbacks forced the program to cut its staff, leaving three classrooms empty at the state-of-the-art facility, despite the demand.

The empty rooms show how difficult funding an ambitious early-education program can be, officials say.

The demand is there, the facilities exist, and trained workers are available, but finding the money is hard, Kaiser said.

"The bottom line is the funding," she said.

 

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

ngallagher@pressherald.com

 

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