State seeks $32 million to ensure high-quality early learning and development experiences for children before kindergarten
AUGUSTA – The Maine Department of Education and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services submitted a joint application this week for $32.2 million in a federal grant competition. The proposal aims to strengthen the quality of Maine’s early childhood programs and make them available to more high-needs children.
The majority of the funds would be used to support activities in the field, such as training and technical assistance for early childhood education programs and educators. Maine is one of about 30 states expected to submit applications to the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge, a $500 million competition among the states.
Maine’s application proposes to take a patchwork of early learning and development programs supported through a variety of funding streams – from public preschool programs to home-based child care to special education services for children 5 and younger – and move them toward consistent standards of quality for early learning.
To help parents, Maine’s Race to the Top proposal includes the development of a public report card system that informs families about the quality of available early learning programs, giving programs a public incentive to subscribe to the highest standards possible.
The 164-page application also adds in a substantial way to Maine’s resources to train early childhood educators and proposes to incorporate more of the state’s early learning and development programs into Maine’s data infrastructure so educators and the public can know which early learning programs and practices yield the best outcomes.
Among the proposals for increasing access to early learning opportunities, Maine’s application proposes a significant investment in installing child safety restraint systems in school buses so children in remote areas have access to the transportation needed to participate in preschool.
“The research proves that children who gain a solid educational foundation in the first five years of life are significantly more likely to be successful in school,” said Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen. “This application builds on Maine’s already strong foundation and investments in early childhood education so we can accelerate the improvements we know we need in this state.”
“Businesses in our state expect and deserve a workforce that’s highly skilled and adaptable,” said Gov. Paul LePage. “Guaranteeing children a solid educational foundation before they begin kindergarten is the first crucial investment we as a state can make in a future workforce that will drive economic growth in Maine.”
“We know the research about the value of positive early experiences and brain development,’’ said Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew. “This grant provides an unprecedented opportunity to apply the research in concrete ways to make a positive difference in the lives of Maine’s children and families.”
While Maine is applying for $32.2 million in federal funds, the state’s full proposal would cost $39.1 million to implement. Existing state and federal funding sources would cover the difference.
The application doesn’t propose new initiatives that would be difficult to sustain after the four years of the Race to the Top grant. Instead, the grant focuses on building the state’s infrastructure for early learning.
The application includes letters of support from early childhood educators, school administrators and representatives from Maine’s higher education community.
Maine’s Race to the Top application is available on the Maine Department of Education’s website at, http://www.maine.gov/education/fouryearold/racetothetop/.