AUGUSTA — Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, joined parents, providers, business leaders and advocates to unveil an ambitious proposal to expand access to quality child care at a press conference on Friday. LD 1760, “An Act To Support Children’s Healthy Development and School Readiness” would help end Maine’s child care deserts by opening up child care slots, training child care providers and investing in existing child care facilities.
“With both parents working, child care is increasingly becoming a necessity for our families, employers and our economy. Not to mention that Maine needs workers,” said President Jackson. “How can we expect parents to go to work if they can’t find child care? This bill is about making sure parents can go to work knowing their child is in safe hands. It’s about laying the groundwork to end Maine’s child care deserts once and for all.”
This bill creates the First 4 ME Early Care and Education Program under the Department of Health and Human Services to provide comprehensive, high-quality care for young children. The project works with providers to open slots in family child care homes or child care centers and provides coaching and additional support to providers.
“This bill is extremely important for all of Maine. It will not only help Maine families but also Maine businesses,” said Kaitlin Taylor, a parent from Skowhegan. “Providing quality care and support for children and families allows our workforce to remain within the state.”
LD 1760 bill directs the department to request proposals for up to 10 pilot projects to implement the program and to report to the Legislature on their progress. The intent of this bill is to lay out a roadmap to make quality child care more accessible and affordable in Maine.
“The reason that the business community is getting involved in this issue is that it’s an economic imperative,” said Jim Clair, President of Goold Health Systems and Co-Chair of the Maine Early Learning Investment Group. “We need high-quality workers that come to work, ready to learn, prepared to learn and contribute.”
“We decided to create this high-quality child care that we couldn’t find [for our own kids]. I began filling the slots I had before I even opened, and within a few weeks of opening we were completely filled,” said Morgan Harris, a family child care provider in Fairfield. “I’ve been doing this work for five years, and I’ve never not had an extensive waitlist.”
“For districts like ours, these partnerships for early learning help close the gap for children with special needs, and increase the readiness and healthy development of some of our youngest learners,” said Jonathan Moody, MSAD 54 Assistant Superintendent. “It helps set a strong foundation of learning that our amazing educators can use to raise aspirations and to ensure all our students know, that with hard work, their education is a key to them becoming and doing anything they set their minds to do.”
The bill is expected to have some cost to the state, but not significant compared to the public-private and federal dollars being leveraged. The current program that this model is based upon doesn’t use any taxpayer dollars.
In Maine, around 70 percent of young children live in homes with both parents in the workforce. According to data from Child Care Aware, Maine has more children in need of care than spots available.
LD 1760 will have a public hearing in the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee later this session. Full text of the bill is attached.