Recently, I spoke to the Legislature’s Children’s Caucus on the critical issue of improving child care options for Maine families. I’ve also been pleased to talk to Maine’s members of Congress about this critical issue. I did so wearing many hats: as an attorney, former general counsel to the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, chair of the Maine Children’s Trust and father of four children aged between 8 and 18 years old.

I am also a member of ReadyNation, a national nonprofit made up of business leaders who want to improve the current and future workforce through investments in early childhood programs. We believe that state and federal investments in high-quality early learning programs – specifically child care – are foundational to growing Maine’s workforce and economy.

Research shows that high-quality early learning programs help prepare our future workforce.

The Legislature will be dealing with myriad child care legislation this session because, frankly, Maine’s child care industry is on the verge of imploding.

That puts our businesses and workforce at great risk. We learned during the pandemic that businesses need reliable child care. Without it, employees who are parents can’t work. That makes helping fix employees’ barriers to high-quality child care a priority for business leaders.

What qualifies as quality child care? First, a program’s physical environment must be safe, clean and attractive to children. Classroom materials should stimulate physical and cognitive development, and instruction and curriculum should be developmentally appropriate.


Most important, the child care teachers’ interactions need to be consistent and supportive and stimulate learning. Adequate compensation is also key to attracting and retaining top talent. Child-to-teacher ratios must be low. Because the child care “day” can be as long as 12 hours, programs should also cover the entire day with adequate staff.

The main driver of child-care costs is labor, and Maine child care workers earn low salaries. Fortunately, last session the Legislature and governor approved the first major General Fund support for Maine’s 6,500 child care workers in the form of a $200 monthly wage supplement.

As a result, the average wage of child care workers in Maine increased by $1.15/hour – from $14.50 to $15.65, which is about $32,500 annually. It’s a good start, but by no means is the job finished.

According to a September 2021 report by the U.S. Treasury, child care workers, as a sector, are the second-lowest paid in our nation. Think about how $15.65/hour compares to what we see advertised for workers in fast food restaurants, at coffee shops and in our local retail establishments.

The Legislature and governor took a major first step last year to address these challenges, but there is more to do. Fortunately, there will be a proposal later this session seeking to further increase the wage supports for Maine’s critical child care workforce and to bring the average median wage closer to the hourly wage of other entry-level jobs.

At the same time, Maine’s congressional delegation is working at the federal level to address this crisis. Last year, Sen. Susan Collins led her U.S. Senate colleagues in calling to double federal child care funding over five years. Rep. Chellie Pingree also called on her U.S. House colleagues to double federal child care funding. As a result, Congress’ end-of-year funding bill provided Maine a significant increase of about $5 million per year. We thank Sen. Collins and Rep. Pingree for their continued bipartisan leadership on federal child care subsidy supports.

If every Maine family had access to the quality child care they need, we could increase workforce participation across Maine and unleash the potential for true economic growth. We would also have more people choosing to move to Maine specifically to work and raise their children. That’s why it is critical for businesses and families that policy leaders at all levels of government work together to address the child care crisis. We need their support for upcoming legislation to increase Maine’s investment in child care and support child care staff, the critical workforce behind our workforce.

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