AUGUSTA — Last week, Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and Senate Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, highlighted the need to invest in quality, affordable child care at a press conference alongside parents, child care providers, pre-kindergarten teachers and advocates.
“Maine’s child care system isn’t working for anyone — parents, providers or businesses. Parents can’t find quality, affordable care with open slots and providers caring for our kids cannot afford to remain open. If we are serious about fixing this system, Maine lawmakers must begin by treating and compensating child care workers like the top-notch professionals they are,” said President Jackson. “The session, I have introduced legislation to double wage stipends for child care workers and increase eligibility for child care scholarships. Action on this crisis cannot wait any longer — there is nothing more important that we can do in the Legislature for Maine families, providers and businesses than passing this type of legislation.”
The event was organized by the Maine Association for the Education of Young Children (MaineAEYC) to commemorate the Week of the Young Child – an annual celebration highlighting the importance of early childhood education and child care. More than 150 educators, administrators, career and technical education students, and stakeholders came to Augusta.
President Jackson and Sen. Vitelli have proposed legislation to raise wages for child care professionals and improve access and affordability for families seeking early care and education. Both bills will have a public hearing in the next few weeks.
“Maine families are asking for access to affordable, high-quality child care in every corner of the state. Supporting these programs is also critical to the health and well-being of our families, communities and economy,” said Sen. Vitelli. “That’s why I have been working hard, alongside child care providers and experts in the field, on a bill to put pre-K on a path to long-term growth and stability. This proposal would improve access to preschool within our schools, community centers, businesses and both family and center-based child care providers.”
Over the past two years, President Jackson and Sen. Vitelli have spearheaded a number of efforts to make child care more accessible and financially feasible for both parents and providers.
In 2021, President Jackson introduced the law establishing the First 4 ME Pilot Program. This pilot program seeks to expand access to quality affordable child care by investing in providers and community stakeholders to open up slots in existing child care programs. The program was modeled after a successful community partnership in Skowhegan. The Department of Health and Human Services began accepting applications for the pilot program in February.
Last year, President Jackson secured funding for an initiative he cosponsored with the Hon. Ryan Fecteau to provide monthly $200 stipends for direct early care and education workers, continuing the stipends funded through the federal American Rescue Plan Act. In recent years, the Legislature has supported funding for preschool expansion grants, child care infrastructure grants and the creation or expansion of early childhood education programs at career and technical education centers.
In 2014, Sen. Vitelli sponsored legislation — LD 1530, “An Act To Establish a Process for the Implementation of Universal Voluntary Public Preschool Programs for Children 4 Years of Age” — to dramatically expand preschool across the state.
In Maine, 70 percent of all Maine children under the age of six live in families with all available parents in the workforce. These families are likely to need access to quality, affordable child care. More than one in five Maine children live in what’s considered a child care desert. The number is higher in rural parts of the state. This means for every three kids in need of child care, there’s only one available slot.
Over the past decade, the number of licensed child care providers in Maine has declined dramatically. In a survey of licensed child care providers, “operating at a deficit” was named a top challenge for the second year in a row by Maine’s family child care providers and child care centers.