Increased funding needed to improve pre-K programs

Increased funding needed to improve pre-K programs

(Maine) Advocates for high quality early childhood education are calling on lawmakers to craft polices that ensure Maine’s preschools receive more funding, that teachers are better trained, and that parents have increased access to programs for their children.

Of the handful of issues outlined in a new report from the Maine Children’s Alliance and the Maine Women's Policy Center, authors of the report found that many parents, regardless of income, struggled to find high-quality care. They also found a need for improved program accountability, funding and coordination among early childhood systems.

“A prosperous future for Maine requires that we ensure the success of all children,” authors of the report wrote. “We must invest in them and the professionals who support them and ensure they can participate in the quality programs we know will make a difference in their lives and in Maine’s future economy.”

Enrollment in state-funded programs reached an all-time high in 2016, with nearly 1.5 million children being served, according to a study released last week by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Education in New Jersey. States including Oklahoma, Florida and Wisconsin now serve more than 70 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds in their states.

Much of the expansion can be attributed to significant federal and state funding increases to improve the quality of pre-K programs and increase the number of slots available to low- and middle-income families.

Although some research has questioned the longevity of the benefits of participation in high quality preschool, other studies have found that children who participate for two years in such programs tend to have higher rates of graduation, college attendance and employment than their peers. They are also less likely to come into contact with the juvenile justice system, and require academic remediation or special education services.

In Maine, 7 percent of 3-year-olds and 48 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in a public preschool program, according to the Center for American Progress. And about 33 percent of children under the age of 6 live in low-income households.

To better support low-income families, authors of the Children’s Alliance and Women's Policy Center report recommend the policymakers increase state investment in the Head Start program by funding slots for 50 percent of eligible children by 2018, and 100 percent by 2020. The report also calls for funding to increase the number of full-day programs to ensure stronger long term child outcomes.

The report notes that although lawmakers voted in 2014 to encourage local school districts to establish voluntary public preschools by 2018, the $4 million needed to support the program annually has not been funded by the state budget.

Other recommendations include:

  • Developing comprehensive statewide initiative focused on improving the expertise of the early childhood workforce by providing access to regular professional development;
  • Ensuring that early childhood teachers receive equal pay to public school instructors with the same credentials and educational attainment;
  • Investing in public awareness of the value of early learning through public information campaigns that explain the value of reading, talking and singing to children to stimulate brain growth; and
  • Increasing the incentives to provide high-quality care under the child care subsidy system by expanding the current “quality bump” a provider receives when they improve the quality of their program. more