AUGUSTA – A bill from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, to expand access to quality, affordable child care in Maine was signed into law by the governor on Monday. The new law — LD 1712, An Act To Support Children’s Healthy Development and School Success — will expand access to quality, affordable child care by investing in child care providers and working with community stakeholders to open slots in existing child care programs through the First 4 ME program administered by the Department of Health and Human Services.
The proposal is part of President Jackson’s Kids First plan, which calls on lawmakers to prioritize Maine children as the policymakers work to rebuild our state in the wake of the pandemic. The governor signed President Jackson’s proposal to make school meals free to all children at no cost as part of the budget earlier this month.
“As it stands, Maine’s child care system isn’t working well for anyone. Maine parents cannot find child care providers with open slots in their communities or near their work. Maine child care providers are barely scraping by despite high demand, and many are closing their doors. It’s time to build a child care system that actually works for Maine kids, parents, providers and employers,” said Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash. “This new law expands access to child care by working with existing providers to open child care slots, hire and train staff, and improve wages. More importantly, it invests in the people and organizations already working on the ground in our communities. This new law is a testament to the extraordinary parents, providers and advocates who worked so hard to get this bill onto the governor’s desk — their commitment to Maine children and families is unmatched.”
The new law seeks to replicate a program in Somerset County, modeled after the successful Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership. Maine plans to create five additional programs across the state, sponsored by coalitions of stakeholders, providers and other community members within the communities that the projects serve.
“Early Childhood Education, and child care specifically, is an issue whole communities need to be concerned about. Foundations built in these early years are the bases for future education and career success,” said Sue Powers, Senior Director of Programs, Aroostook County Action Program. “Child care is not just an issue for parents of young children, but for community employers and service providers. We all need to be concerned about who is caring for the children of our communities and the experiences those children are receiving. First 4 Me is a community-based approach to building an early childhood system that will support child care, families and communities leading to stronger futures for all.”
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.
2020 was a tough year for child care providers. There were 21 fewer child care centers and 65 fewer family child care programs than the previous year. In a survey, two-thirds of Maine child care providers said they did not get enough financial relief to make ends meet.
The new law will take effect 90 days after the Maine Legislature adjourns sine die. Here is what parents, providers and advocates said about LD 1712 at the press conference and public hearing:
- Chrissie Davies, Skowhegan Family Child Care Provider: “In short, Elevate Maine supports all facets of quality, professionalizes family child care, and helps us develop our small businesses. I believe more providers and the children and families they serve should have access to similar supports to provide high-quality early child care and education. I sincerely hope you will support LD1712 and the First 4 for ME Early Care and Education Program. You will be providing a wonderful service to Maine’s children, their families, and the providers who serve them.”
- Tracye Fortin, Executive Director at Educare Central Maine and Chief Operating Officer of Child & Family Services at Kennebec Valley Community Action Program: “Our communities, our state and our country realize now more than ever before that childcare access and quality are paramount to a healthy economy. This was highlighted with the pandemic. This has been known to the early childhood field for years from research-based evidence, and certainly came to light — brightly — since COVID-19, for business leaders, public educators, government officials, families and children. The research behind LD 1712 is expansive; inclusive of national, state and local data.”
- Deborah Arcaro, Chair of Family Childcare Association of Maine: “With the ever present need for quality child care in our state, family child care offers an opportunity for individuals looking to open a sustainable small business as a family child care provider to add to the economic development of their community on many levels: a small business, possible employer, support for the local workforce, and quality care for the children that are Maine’s future. FCCAM believes that LD 1712 is a positive step in meeting Maine’s diverse needs in building a sustainable quality child care system that provides access to all children and families.”
- Heather Marden, Maine Association for the Education of Young Children: “LD 1712 will create stronger early learning experiences in the lives of Maine’s children. Collaboration and partnerships will ensure that resources are accessible and equitable to children and families and ensure that there is “no wrong door” for accessing information.”
- Rita Furlow, Maine Children’s Alliance: “All children in Maine should have equal access to the early developmental and learning opportunities that create the framework for their future success. But right now, early care and education is too costly, for families and providers, while quality isn’t assured.The First 4 Me Model has: improved quality, which has expanded opportunity for children and families while maintaining the financial viability of early childhood system even when four-year olds are being served in public programs. If we want Maine’s future to be in good hands, we need to support our youngest children — a future generation of young people who can lead our communities and grow our economy. First 4 ME would play an integral role in expanding both opportunity and quality in the early childhood system.”
- James A. Clair, Chief Executive Officer, CSS Health: “These positive results show us why high-quality child care is important today and for our future. And, most importantly, they provide us with a successful model for how this critically important work can be replicated across our state. Now is the time for state policymakers to act on this knowledge and remove the barriers that are holding back too many children, families and businesses. I encourage your support for LD 1712’s creation of additional high-quality pilot sites across Maine so more young children and their families and child care providers can benefit from this proven programming, and start on the path for success that we all wish for each Maine child.”
- Ben Gilman, Maine State Chamber of Commerce: “I offer the Chamber’s continued support for high-quality early learning programs and the importance of supporting proposals like LD1712 as a tool to build and strengthen Maine’s future workforce. One of the pandemic’s many lessons is that accessible, affordable, high-quality child care is critically important — especially to Maine’s business community. The widespread shutdowns last spring halted or greatly limited the work of businesses all across our state. But even when businesses reopened, many employees could not return to work or return full time. With their children’s child care centers and schools closed or with limited hours of operation, many parents had to stay home and care for their kids. If workers can’t work because they lack child care, that’s a barrier to each business’ ability to operate. I can also share with this Committee that as a father of four kids ages 6 to 16, I have lived, and continue to live, the experiences of working from home while all four kids are trying to learn remotely; and I know the struggles of finding accessible and affordable child care. The Maine State Chamber of Commerce has a vested interest in helping to support Maine’s child care sector and we believe this bill is a priority, and a good start to helping build and sustain workers in this critical employment sector.”
- Eamonn Dundon, Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce: “Over 60% of our members report that their employees have trouble finding childcare. This translates into very real business impediments that undermine our economic development efforts at the state and local level, with 75% of our members saying that their employees experience unplanned work absences due to lack of childcare, and nearly 50% saying that lack of childcare has caused issues when it comes to employee retention. We support these bills because we know that an affordable, accessible and quality early childcare system is crucial to the economic development prospects of our state. Without access to childcare more workers will remain on the sidelines of the economy, imperiling our state’s efforts to rebuild from COVID-19, and more young Mainers will lose out on the foundational benefits early childhood education provides.”
- Jordyn Rossignol, Ms. Jordyn’s Child Care and Preschool: “I think the emphasis on quality is important to note when discussing this bill. We need to expand childcare but also make sure we are assisting existing programs to improve the quality of their work. Providing funds to train staff, improve the environment settings and provide resources and support to directors would be a monumental benefit to the birth-to-five community in our great state. In order to stimulate our economy, we need to get back to basics and start from the beginning and that is with our children. By investing in early education and high-quality child care services we are creating endless benefits to combat multiple sectors of the economic crisis we are in. When you do support this bill, my colleagues and I will happily show you the good in the work we continue to do.”
- Alison Britton, Early Childhood Education Instructor at Region Two School of Applied Technology in Houlton: “I support LD 1712, because we all benefit when children and families have access to high quality early childhood programs. And the best way to do that is by creating a strong system with a supported workforce of early educators. The system needs sustainable wages for early childhood educators as well as affordable programs that allow parents and families to secure gainful employment and contribute to the economy. Each year I watch motivated, dedicated students with the potential to become assets to the early childhood education community choose other professions because of the low earning potential of this line of work. It is heart-breaking to watch, as research has shown over and over again the value of highly-qualified early childhood professionals in the lives of young children. Not only is this a hardship for the potential early childhood educators, but it makes it nearly impossible for families to find high- quality programs where they feel comfortable enrolling their children because current wages lead to high turnover and burnout rates in this field. High turnover and burnout rates among early childhood professionals can also be attributed to the stress they feel when they are unable to provide the necessary resources and supports to the children and families in their care. This bill would address these issues.”