PRE-K MEASURE BECOMES LAW
Will provide start up funding to school districts to offer pre-K programs
AUGUSTA—A measure to expand early childhood education in Maine became law today without Governor LePage’s signature.
“This is a great day for kids. Expanding access to pre-K will give all Maine children a greater opportunity to succeed,” said Senator Eloise Vitelli of Arrowsic, a former preschool teacher. “We are stronger as a community and a state when every child has the opportunity pre-K provides to learn and grow.”
Currently, there are 172 School Administrative Units in the state with elementary schools; however, only 60% of these schools offer some kind of pre-K.
The law makes casino revenues available as start up funding to school districts who want to offer a voluntary pre-K program and establishes a stakeholder group to develop quality standards, best practices, and common assessments.
The measure was supported by a law enforcement officers, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, and educators.
At a press conference in support of the bill, Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry noted that we either pay now by investing in early education or we pay up in the long run with rising incarceration costs.
With about 2,000 incarcerated adults, Maine currently spends $161 million per year on prisons. According to the Fight Crime: Invest in Kids report, at-risk youth not involved in a pre-K program were 70% more likely to commit violent crimes by the age of 18. In that report, a national survey among police chiefs reported more than 80% ranked investment in early childhood as the “top strategy” for reducing crime.
“Our education, social service, law enforcement, military, and business leaders are urging us to invest in pre-K programs,” said Senator Rebecca Millett of Cape Elizabeth, the Senate chair of the Education Committee. “Our schools are ready, our teachers are ready, and the Department of Education is ready. Now is the right time for action.”
According to a 2011 report by America’s Edge , every $1 invested in early education in Maine generates $1.78 in economic activity, a greater rate of return than investments in farming, forestry, fishing and hunting, transportation, construction, retail trade, wholesale trade, manufacturing, and utilities.
In an op-ed in support of the bill, Dana Connors, President of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, and Chamber Board Member Steve Rich wrote, “Investment in early childhood is real economic development. It is not just a social and moral imperative; it is an economic imperative.”
The measure, LD 1530, “An Act To Establish a Process for the Implementation of Universal Voluntary Prekindergarten Education,” sponsored by former State Senator Seth Goodall, will take effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns.