Maine State Chamber promotes release of new report illustrating how early childhood programs’ scarcity undermines Maine’s rural communities
Prominent community leaders, educators, and a parent of twin preschoolers release a film and report discussing the challenges created by the lack of high-quality early education and care in rural Maine
Community leaders from business including the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, law enforcement and retired military rhelped eleased a new report entitled “Early Childhood Programs’ Scarcity Undermines Maine's Rural Communities.” The report highlights the disproportionate challenges that rural children face in accessing high-quality early programs and other supports. A short film accompanied the report release and included views of this pressing problem from early educators, a superintendent, and a parent of twin 4-year-old boys.
As the most rural state in the nation, 61 percent of Maine citizens live in an area deemed “rural” by the U.S. Census Bureau. The report highlights the fact that 23 percent of children in rural Maine live in poverty, compared to 13.5 percent of urban children. Children living in rural areas often lack resources and supports, including quality early childhood care and education, which research shows can strengthen the current and future workforce, contribute to a strong economy and public safety, and enhance national security in the long run. Today, 26 percent of Maine children also live in “child care deserts,” where eligible children outnumber open slots three-to-one or more. The report calls on policymakers to support investments to increase access and quality of early care and education for rural children to help ensure a strong Maine future.
Maine State Chamber of Commerce President Dana Connors, who is also a member of ReadyNation, framed the report. “From my service on the Governor’s Economic Recovery Committee, it is much more clearly understood today how key quality child care is to every sector of Maine’s economy and across every region,” Connors said. “Without child care, parents cannot go to work, and businesses cannot operate. Child care needs to be both accessible and high-quality so parents are not distracted while they are working worrying about the nurturing, teaching and safety of their children.” Connors pointed out that the Economic Recovery Committee recommended increased funding to child care, and also funding to grow and improve the child care workforce.
Mission Readiness member Major General Bill Libby, U.S. Army (ret.), former Maine Adjutant General, explains, “What has early childhood education got to do with national security? In Maine, 68 percent of the demographic aged 17 to 24 that we recruit from, didn't qualify for military service because they either didn't have a high school diploma, they couldn't pass the PT test, or they had a police record that disqualified them. Sixty-eight percent — that’s almost seven out of 10 — we couldn't recruit from. I just hate to see young men and women being denied any opportunity in whatever path they choose because they are not prepared.”
Fight Crime: Invest In Kids member and Commissioner of Corrections Randy Liberty spoke of the connection between a lack of early childhood support and crime. “We know that, nationally, 60 percent of the individuals that arrive in custody or are incarcerated in the nation, have no GED, no high school diploma,” Liberty said, “If youth get a quality education, quality child care early on, prior to kindergarten, they have really good outcomes.” Liberty also talked about how lawmakers can take the long view on investing in early education now, “There's really no savings by not investing. We know that it costs about $40,000 per year to house an inmate. We could spend much, much less investing early on in someone's life and prevent that incarceration.”
Jason Judd, Executive Director of Educate Maine and a member of ReadyNation, makes the business case for strengthening early care and education across all of Maine, particularly in rural areas. “For families that are looking to move to Maine and are interested in moving to Maine, one of the first things they ask is: what are the childcare offerings? Are they high quality? Are there enough slots for their children? If we were able to offer high quality child care for every family across the state, regardless of where they lived in Maine, we would have a thriving workforce and a wonderful economy. We would have people wanting to move here specifically to work and raise their children. That's how important this investment is to students, families, the economy, and workforce attraction.”
Parent Carolyn Courtney shared her personal experience finding child care. “I have twin boys. Providers either didn't have any openings or didn't have two openings. In this rural community finding quality child care is definitely a struggle. It's just a huge stressor. You have to be at a job for 40 hours a week and you might not have somewhere to send your kids.”
The report highlights a pilot program in Skowhegan, Elevate Maine, that is addressing these challenges. The film includes interviews with Elevate Maine’s Program Director Tracye Fortin, and an area home care provider who participates in the program, Chrissie Davis.
SAD 54 Superintendent of Schools Jon Moody said that he can tell when young children start school having had quality early learning experiences, and that these experiences help set students up for success. “The difference when kids come in and they're well-prepared is significant,” he explains. “You can see it primarily in the way they behave in the classroom. The way they interact with new material, a lot of it are the practices and routines of school that set them up to get the new learning, to move forward.”
Children in rural America are struggling—their families and communities are struggling, too. They are in dire need of greater access to high-quality and affordable early education programs. The new report and film make it clear that lawmakers need to invest in these programs to better the lives of children and families in these areas to make the nation stronger as a whole.