Times Record: Vitelli offers bill for statewide pre-K
By Gina Hamilton
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State Sen. Eloise Vitelli presented a bill Monday to extend early childhood education to every school district in Maine. The measure could be considered during the short legislative session that begins in January.
Groups including educators, police and doctors came out to support the bill at a meeting of the Education and Cultural Affairs.
“In my early career, I was a Head Start teacher and saw firsthand the benefits of early childhood education,” said Vitelli, D-Arrowsic. “Many of us agree that access to early childhood education plays a critical role in determining where a person ends up in life. Children who receive quality education at a young age are more successful in school, and life.”
Currently, there are 172 school administrative units in the state with elementary schools; however, only 60 percent of these schools offer some kind of pre-K.
Vitelli’s measure is designed to provide a pathway for 100 percent of school units to offer pre-K.
The bill, LD 1530 “An Act To Establish a Process for the Implementation of Universal Voluntary Prekindergarten Education,” would utilize the network of public schools and local community providers to deliver pre-K education.
During Monday’s public hearing, the bill received broad support from educators and education leaders, economic and national security advocates, and leaders in corrections. One of the panelists, Judy Cameron, professor of psychiatry and director of science outreach at the University of Pittsburgh, urged a greater investment in early childhood education, noting that the greatest return on investment is highest at the pre-school, early intervention level compared to investments that occur after the age of 18.
According to neurobiological studies, she said, approximately 85 percent of a person’s core brain structure is formed by age 3. Research shows that positive early-childhood experiences create a strong foundation and prepare the brain for all the development that follows.
Cameron added that “the ability to change behavior decreases over time” and children who have adverse childhood experiences without early childhood intervention experience higher rates of depression, alcoholism and drug abuse.
The panel also included Col. Mark Westrum, the administrator of Two Bridges Regional Jail and former Sagadahoc County sheriff, who told the committee that “like it or not, we’re going to pay.”
He noted that society either pays for the crime or pays for prevention.
Westrum added, “We need to take every step that we can to prevent a crime before it happens and pre-K keeps kids out of trouble.”
Investment in early childhood education has shown to have the highest return on investment over the long term, advocates say.
Some national economic studies indicate investing in high quality care and education starting at birth yields a return on investment of $4- $16 for every $1 invested — as measured by greater success in school, reduced remedial education costs in our K-12 system, improved earnings, and avoided or greatly reduced welfare and crime costs.
“Universal pre-K is a public investment for all of our children and not just some,” Vitelli said. “Quality education counts. We need to ensure that stakeholders are included in this process to help define and assure a quality early education experience for our children.”
Other panelists included, Bill Libby of Mission: Readiness; Rosalie Perkins, program coordinator at regional School Unit 1; RSU 1 Superintendent Patrick Manuel; Bob Parlin, director of Family Focus; Kathryn Colfer, director of child and family services at Educare Central Maine; and Eric Haley, superintendent of Waterville schools.
The committee will hold a work session on the measure when the Legislature resumes in January.