Focus on high-quality early learning and development experiences for children before kindergarten
AUGUSTA – While Maine was not one of the nine states chosen for a major federal grant for early learning programs, state education and health officials pledged Friday to move forward anyway with their plan to bolster high quality early learning and development experiences for children before kindergarten.
“There are aspects of our proposal that we’ll have to move more slowly on, for sure, but we’re still moving ahead with our plans to strengthen early childhood programs and increase access to them,” said Jaci Holmes, Federal-State Liaison at the Maine Department of Education. “From the start our plan was about building on the comprehensive work already underway with our partners on improving access to and quality of early learning programs.”
The U.S. Department of Education awarded Maine an average 221 points out of a possible 280 under the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge competitive grant program. A total of up to $500 million was awarded to the nine states chosen. Maine had applied for $32 million.
“The key to our plan is the willing collaboration among state agencies and the various providers, from our public schools to private for-profit and non-profit early learning programs,” said Therese Cahill-Low, Director of the Office of Child and Family Services at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, which co-wrote the application.
Maine plans to continue to support activities in the field, such as training and technical assistance for early childhood education programs and educators. The goal is 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 plans to continue progress on 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.
Maine also plans 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.
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.
Maine’s Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge application is available on the Maine Department of Education’s website at, www.maine.gov/education/fouryearold/racetothetop/.