I believe a quality education is the foundation for an individual’s success. In particular, access to quality early childhood education has been shown to have a clear impact on a child’s future success in life. Last month, the Maine Legislature’s Commission to Study Expansion of Public Preschool and Early Care and Education issued its final report. The report highlights the state’s need for universal pre-k education that is accessible and equitable for all families. According to the Department of Education, only 52% of 4 year olds in Maine are enrolled in pre-K. Maine can improve this statistic by having equitable and accessible early childhood education. The practicality of universal pre-K will help equalize the playing field for all Maine’s children, and turn into a real investment in Maine’s future.

The commission’s report outlines strategies to help ensure all Maine children have access to quality early education. Some of the recommendations of the commission include: providing incentives and increasing funding for public preschool programs, and encouraging flexibility in early childhood education credentialing. Ultimately, Maine will need to innovate to meet this need.

Currently, child care, preschool and Head Start programs all have different statutory requirements. The costs to establish a program vary depending on the type of provider. This patchwork of possible services may make it difficult for parents to navigate the search for early child care. The commission’s recommendation would use grant-based funding to cover initial startup and on-going costs of preschool programs across Maine. This is a necessary step toward universal pre-K.

The commission identified educator credentialing as a barrier to the expansion of public preschool. The commission suggests having a pathway to an alternate certification for early childhood professionals. This would address the issue of hiring and retaining and that many early childhood education providers are facing. The commission also suggests allowing more flexibility in certificate endorsements for qualified early childhood education professionals. This will ultimately help more Mainers find a fulfilling career and help preschool programs hire quality candidates – which will also help expand availability.

With so many Mainers starting families and settling down, it is clear that as Maine works to retain its young population and young families, we must support these new families by having a universal preschool system. In the long-term, universal pre-K with quality standards is a win-win. It’s a win for Maine’s children, who will have a chance to advance and bridge the achievement gap in education. It is also a win for Maine’s working families as they participate in the workforce and have peace of mind with their children in a safe and enriching space. Universal pre-K leads to positive impacts for our communities and our state.

For Maine to reach universal pre-K, we must be willing to bring all stakeholders to the table. Parents, educators, as well as state and municipal leaders need to have equal input in the discussions regarding our state’s future. If the state’s goal of 100% access to public preschool by 2026 is to be met, we must work together to provide equitable and flexible early childhood education. By investing in our children and families in this way, we’re investing in Maine’s future prosperity. I will continue to support smart, innovative efforts to help Maine achieve this goal.

If you have questions, ideas or comments on the commission or throughout the legislative session, please feel free to contact me at Stacy.Brenner@legislature.maine.gov or my legislative office at (207) 287-1515. You can also follow my Facebook page at Facebook.com/SenatorStacyBrenner for more frequent updates.

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