Early Education: Bigger than baby steps
Nearly 20 years ago, Doris Buffett, sister to billionaire and philanthropist Warren Buffett, pledged $3 million to create the state’s first Educare center, an innovative early childhood education model intended to help children from birth to 3 years old with emotional, cognitive and social development in the state’s poorest areas. The data were clear: give kids an educational head start and they will carry that advantage through high school graduation and into the workforce.
The connection between investment in early education — and its first cousin, quality child care — and economic development was clear to many in the business community, which sustained efforts to raise money and awareness through the recession. Despite their advocacy, investment in little kids remained a back-burner issue.
Then came a 16-month pandemic spotlighting the struggles of parents trying to work from home and care for young children. Access to affordable, quality child care and early education – already a priority of Gov. Janet Mills – gained political momentum. Now Maine is poised to receive $130 million to jump start its early education and child care initiatives, but are there policies and oversight in place to best use it?
2003: Doris Buffett, sister to billionaire and philanthropist Warren Buffett, pledged $3 million to create the state’s first Educare center, an innovative early childhood education model intended to help children from birth to 3 years old with emotional, cognitive and social development in the state’s poorest areas. The idea was to create the first Educare center and replicate it around the state.
2010: Educare Central opens in Waterville and now serves 200 children. Hopes were high that other Educare centers, based on a hub-and-spoke model for services, would soon follow. Read more
2011: But Educare’s $10 million price tag proves daunting to replicate, especially in a recession. The Children’s Cabinet, comprised of the commissioners of five state agencies that deal with children’s issues and established by statute in 2000, dissolves under Gov. Paul LePage.
Transition report from Baldacci to LePage administrations for the governor’s Children’s Cabinet
Status of Children’s Cabinets in the U.S.
2012: A study commissioned by a private group of businesses, foundations and individuals analyzed investing in early education as an economic development strategy. Noting that almost half of Maine kids under the age of 5 were living in poverty, Dr. Philip Trostel’s report concludes that by investing an additional $26,200 into each child’s early education, there would be a fiscal benefit of $125,400 per child by the time the child turned 14 – a 7.5 percent return on investment. Read more
2012: A group of CEOs bands together to raise money and advocate for the business community to get behind Educare’s hub-and-spoke concept and bring its programming model to other parts of the state without the pricey physical structure. Hopeful that they could raise $10 million, members of the Maine Early Learning Investment Group started knocking on doors eventually raising $1.6 million. Read more
2013-2015: MELIG forms a partnership with Educare Central Maine and the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program to create a demonstration project in Somerset County called Elevate Maine. The scalable model coordinates on-the-ground, birth-to-kindergarten-entry quality early care and education system in the greater Skowhegan area. Read more
2017: Right from the Start, a coalition of more than 30 local organizations formed to ensure early care and education that is accessible and of high quality, from birth to 8, and no matter where families live in Maine. The group lobbies for a public-private partnership model for early care, education and workforce development. Read more
2019: Maine Children’s Alliance releases a report on child care. Among its findings: about half of Maine families qualify for child care assistance, but only 1 in 20 children (age 0-11) actually gets that support. Read more
2019: Youth and Family Outreach in Portland launches a campaign to open a new early childhood education and child care center in Bayside using a novel approach: partnering with the Portland Housing Authority. The project combines affordable and sustainable housing initiatives with expanded family services that are expected to double the program’s capacity to serve children and to provide 60 mixed-income housing units. Read more
2019: Maine Public: A Deep Dive into Child Care. Read more
2020: Child Care Aware releases a national report on affordability of child care, noting it should not exceed more than 10 percent of a family’s gross income, according to federal guidelines. But with a median annual household income of around $55,600, a Maine family would spend nearly 17 percent of its household income on infant care for a single child. Read more
January 2021: Council for a Strong America’s issues a research report and 5-minute video on the challenges of early care and education in rural Maine. The video features prominent Mainers from law enforcement, military and business sectors who argue for investment in young children as way to address the state’s workforce challenges and enhance its public safety and readiness. Read more
Spring 2021: A raft of legislative bills to support child care and early learning appear in Augusta. Read more
May 9, 2021: Melinda Gates weighs in on the impact of the pandemic on child care as a policy priority. Read more
May 10, 2021: President Biden’s $200 billion pre-k proposal earns praise from policy analyst at Maine Children’s Alliance. Read more
May 30, 2021: Another labor crisis hits Maine: Parents can’t find child care Read more
May 2021: Gov. Janet Mills releases her Child Care Plan for Maine, a compilation of strategies to use expected federal funds, with a focus on access and quality. Read more