State Rep. Henry Ingwersen 

For over two decades, I served as an educator in York County. Each year that I taught in the classroom, I recognized the power of our educational system.

It’s clear that every step of the educational continuum is important. Our high schools provide valuable workforce training skills, the middle school curriculum focuses on instilling healthy habits and elementary educators support their students’ social and emotional development. For too long, however, we have neglected our youngest and most malleable students.

Preschool programs offer children exposure to social and academic preparation that helps ease the transition to Kindergarten. This allows them to be fully prepared for their future years in school. In a wide range of studies, including reports by Rutgers University and the University of Wisconsin, it has been proven that early interventions, especially with disadvantaged children, produce positive results. These results range from a lower need for special education services, to higher grade retention and decreased criminal activity.

The importance of high-quality universal preschool hasn’t just been shown through academic reports, it has also been seen in real life case studies. Since 1998, Oklahoma has provided free, voluntary universal pre-Kindergarten for all four year old children. Roughly 75 percent of 4-year-olds in Oklahoma are currently enrolled in a preschool program. Pre-K programs in Tulsa have significantly improved young children’s ability to identify letters, spell and problem solve. On average, students enrolled in a preschool program advanced an average of five months ahead in pre-math skills and nine months ahead in pre-reading skills.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also supports ensuring children have access to high-quality child care and preschool programs. In a recent policy statement they noted that children enrolled in high-quality programming prior to Kindergarten are more likely to have the academic and social-emotional skills to succeed.

Benjamin Franklin once stated that “an investment in knowledge pays the best dividends.” Given these results, it’s clear that early childhood education is knowledge worth investing in.

According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, 42 percent of Maine four-year olds are enrolled in a pre-K program. Maine, however, ranks 38th nationally in terms of pre-K resources per child enrolled. This is an embarrassment, which has had long-term impacts regarding our state’s educational achievement.

High quality pre-K programs do not just benefit the students that are enrolled, they benefit the student’s entire family. Having a child enrolled in pre-K frees up parents to enter the economy. This boosts the family’s income, while also benefiting our state’s economic health. Currently, Maine is facing a workforce crisis. With many active workers preparing to retire and our rural population dwindling, we need every worker possible to be engaged in our economy. Increasing Maine’s early education programming will bolster our current workforce and support our next generation of Mainers.

Earlier this month, the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee considered LD 1043. This legislation, sponsored by Rep. Tori Kornfield, D-Bangor, would create a plan and pathway for universal pre-K in Maine. As a member of the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, I’ve been proud to support this bill and look forward to seeing it passed into law.

It’s time for Maine to take bold action on universal pre-K. Our student’s success and the health of our workforce depends on it. LD 1043 is a step in the right direction.

Rep. Henry Ingwersen, D-Arundel, is serving his first term in the Maine House. He represents District 10, which includes the towns of Arundel, Dayton and part of Lyman.

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