AUGUSTA — Today, Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and Senate Majority Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, introduced two measures to improve access to quality, affordable early care and education programs at public hearings before both the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, and the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.
“Maine’s child care system isn’t working for anyone, not parents, providers or businesses. The failure to value and prioritize child care providers and workers — the workforce behind the workforce that keeps our families, communities and economy running — is finally catching up to us. For the sake of our families, community and economy, the Legislature must take action,” said President Jackson. “LD 1726 would transform Maine’s child care system by raising wages, improving access to scholarship programs and making changes to data collection and program delivery that are long overdue.”
The proposal from President Jackson — LD 1726, “An Act to Build Maine’s Economy by Supporting Child Care for Working Families” — would double the monthly wage stipend for child care workers and expand eligibility for working families to qualify for the child care subsidy program. Doubling the wage stipend would help workers remain in the industry and help providers attract and retain staff. Under this proposal, child care assistance would be available for families that earn up to 125 percent of the state’s median wage.
“Our great child care educators are in a place where they need to decide how they are going to pay their bills while working in a job they love OR leave to go to another field that provides them the opportunity to pay their bills,” said Jennifer Vachon, Parkside Children’s Learning Center in Bangor.
“Our program cannot pay our employees any more than we do, but without your support I fear we are going to lose our amazing caregivers.”
The proposal would also require data collection, establishing a child care task force and restructuring the child care subsidy reimbursement in a way that improves the program for providers.
“Maine families are asking for access to affordable, high-quality child care in every corner of the state. In order to make Maine’s program sustainable, we must give all Maine children with working parents an opportunity to access high-quality early education and ensure our kids are prepared for Kindergarten,” said Sen. Vitelli. “This bill adds accountability and a timeline to the path to universal preschool.”
The proposal from Sen. Vitelli — LD 1799, “An Act to Expand Maine’s High-quality Early Learning and Care for Children by Increasing Public Preschool Opportunities in Communities” — would improve access to public preschool. It establishes a timeline, an implementation plan and incentives to expand publicly funded preschool programming to 30 hours per week or the length of the local school day at a school administrative unit, delivering families access to preschool wherever it is most convenient to them.
The legislation is modeled after successful programs all across the state, including Bath.
“The unique nature of our partnership allows us to provide a full day of high-quality care for the children in our program. Children attend pre-K in a designated classroom at the Y[MCA] from 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., and then we seamlessly integrate them into wraparound programming for the remainder of the day,” said Annie Colaluca, Preschool Director for the Bath Area Family YMCA. “Practically speaking, this means that families have care for their children from 7 a.m. to p.m., Monday through Friday in one safe, convenient location. We know this care is particularly essential for parents that are working full time and don’t have the ability to end their workday early, or transport their children from pre-K to a separate aftercare program in the middle of the workday.”
Roughly 70 percent of all Maine children under the age of six live in households where all available parents work, and likely need access to some sort of early care and education program. At the same time, there are 350 fewer licensed child care providers operating in Maine today than a decade ago.
“I got on waiting lists for child care when we first found out we were expecting a baby. When he was born, we still didn’t have a spot. I called so many places that were all full. When my maternity leave ended, we still were on waiting lists. I had to cut back my work from full-time to part-time because we had no daycare, and my mom drove from Eddington to Skowhegan and back two days a week to take care of Sam,” said Sarah Bigney, Organizing Director of the Maine AFL-CIO. “LD 1726 would be a game-changer to solidify the child care workforce and keep people in the profession, therefore making spots for more children. A lot of working-class families who make too much right now would find relief from raising the threshold for the subsidy. Please hear the cries of so many Maine families and take action to enact real solutions to the child care crisis by passing LD 1726.”
The proposals are supported by Right from the Start Coalition, Maine Children’s Alliance, the Maine Association for the Education of Young Children, Family Child Care Association of Maine, Council for a Strong America, Maine Community Action Partnership, Maine AFL-CIO, Maine Economic Policy Center, Maine Women’s Lobby, Maine Equal Justice Program, the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce and many more.
Both LD 1726 and LD 1799 face additional work sessions in committee.