February 14

Maine Voices: Elevate Maine aims to help front end of educational pipeline

Greater investment in early learning is both the right thing to do and a wise investment in the future.

By Eleanor Baker and Chris Emmons

As an accountant and a banker, we are adding our voices to the growing chorus of business leaders committed to greater investments in high-quality early learning as both the right thing to do for Maine’s youngest children, and a wise investment in Maine’s future workforce and our economy.

about the authors

Eleanor Baker is managing principal of the Portland accounting and advisory firm Baker Newman & Noyes, and Chris Emmons is president and CEO of Gorham Savings Bank.

We are also pleased to be two of 10 private-sector executives leading the efforts of the Maine Early Learning Investment Group to capitalize a public-private partnership to further investments in quality services for Maine’s youngest children, from birth up to 5 years old.

Our organization has chosen the first initiative for our efforts, Elevate Maine, which focuses on increasing the quality and effectiveness of early childhood educators through increased training and technical assistance.

As business leaders, we know the success of Maine’s economy depends on well-educated, skilled and innovative workers. Many of our business leader colleagues have focused for decades on programs targeted to high school and college students. We applaud those efforts. But we are also coming at these challenges in a different and exciting way that is more cost-effective: Let’s start earlier!

Scientists have shown us that children’s early experiences provide the foundation for later success in school and work. Many reports link educational struggles and lack of attainment to students’ earliest years.

So, in many cases, our traditional formula for business leader involvement in education has simply been too late in the game. That’s why the Maine Early Learning Investment Group has chosen to invest in the healthy development of Maine’s youngest children as the surest way to improve student achievement and to create the educational quality that we need in our workforces, and that all segments of Maine need for our collective future successes.

Our current educational system just isn’t cutting it for too many Maine kids. Sixteen percent of Maine high school students do not graduate on time; 61 percent of our eighth-graders are below grade level in math, and 68 percent of fourth-graders read below grade level.

The front end of the educational pipeline needs help: Too many of our 5-year-olds are not ready to enter kindergarten and lack fundamental skills like counting to 10, recognizing letters of the alphabet or being able to socialize. When youngsters start school behind, all too often they stay behind and that leads to poor attainment results. That’s why starting early with high-quality learning is so crucial.

Extensive research confirms that children who participate in high-quality early learning programs are significantly more likely to enter kindergarten with the skills they need to learn, which leads to success during school and later in the workforce. Results from the best early learning programs show that participating students have increased language skills, less need for special education and increased graduation rates.

Students from such high-quality programs are also up to 22 percent more likely to be employed as an adult and can earn as much as 36 percent more than those who did not participate in a high-quality early learning program.

Research conducted by the national business leaders’ organization America’s Edge shows that investing in high-quality early care and education can boost Maine’s economy today, as well as in the long term.

Every dollar in Maine invested in high-quality early learning generates an additional 78 cents in economic activity, for a total of $1.78 in sales of local goods and services throughout the state. As an economic sector, early care and education generate as much or more economic activity than investments in other major sectors like construction and transportation, and even more than forestry and fishing.

Here in Maine, an economic analysis of early learning programs by University of Maine economics professor Philip Trostel demonstrated a 7.5 percent real fiscal internal rate of return on investment.

In particular, his study highlights how investments in high-quality early education programs can lead to a substantial reduction in taxpayer dollars that would otherwise be needed for child protective services, special education, public assistance, law enforcement and corrections.

We are pleased to be leading an effort of business executives who are now telling policymakers that continuing the status quo of inadequate early childhood investments should not be an option. We know too much not to make a better decision on priorities.

High-quality early learning is simply too important as the foundation for healthier, more productive and prosperous lives for Maine children. The economic boost it provides is an added bonus for Maine as well.

— Special to the Press Herald

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