New Revenue Source Allows for Pre-K Expansion in Maine

On a snowy morning in December, state legislators, including the Chairs of the Education Committee, toured Educare Central Maine. The tour showed them what high quality early education for children, starting at birth, really looks like and means to Maine’s children and families. This experience helped to galvanize the Chairs of the Ed Committee, who showed great resolve in making preschool expansion a reality in Maine. The legislature passed the bill, LD 1530, and it became law at midnight on April 29, 2014, even though Governor LePage refused to put his signature on it.  Children across the state will soon benefit from a significant expansion in voluntary, public preschool.  The law establishes high standards and encourages community collaboration for public preschool programs. In FY15-16, $4 million in funds from casino revenues will address the primary obstacle to preschool expansion in Maine – first year start up costs – because 4-year-old preschool is included in the school funding formula in Maine.

This legislation continues Maine’s commitment to coordination and collaboration with existing early childhood programs, such as Head Start, in order to maximize resources and provide comprehensive services that we know produce outcomes for young children and their families. The law directs the Maine Department of Education to work with a stakeholder group to develop public preschool program standards to ensure quality programming, and it funds an Early Childhood Coordinator position at the Maine Department of Education to oversee the effort.

This was a true bi-partisan effort. It had the support of diverse champions, including the Maine Children’s Alliance, members of Maine’s law enforcement community from Fight Crime Invest in Kids, representatives from United Way organizations across the state, the Maine Chamber of Commerce, directors of Head Start in Maine, current and former military leaders from Mission Readiness, and partners such as the Maine Women’s Lobby from our coalition of Start ME Right.

Despite the Pre-K expansion victory, budget difficulties continued this spring as revenue came in under projections, spending at the Department of Health & Human Services exceeded the budget, and the Governor refused to submit a supplemental budget.  The Governor’s Office of Policy and Management recommended cuts of $448,875 to Head Start for FY-14 and $1.3 million for FY-15.  While the cuts to Head Start for FY-14 were restored, only $750,000 were restored by the Appropriations Committee for FY-15.  This will ultimately result in a loss of approximately $500,000 in state funds to early Head Start in Maine.  As we plan for the next legislative session, restoring these funds will be one of our top priorities at MCA.

- Rita Furlow, Senior Policy Analyst, Maine Children’s Alliance (May 27, 2014)