Maine DOE awarded $14.8 million to expand public preschool access

The Department will pass a majority of the money to 13 school districts to create 33 new classrooms for 4-year-old students and expand 23 others

AUGUSTA – The Maine Department of Education has been awarded $14.8 million to expand public preschool opportunities in 10 counties.

Over the next four years, the Department will pass 95 percent of the funds awarded by the U.S. Department of Education to 13 school districts with high percentages of low-income students so they can establish or expand preschool programs in partnership with local early childhood program providers.

In total, 33 new classrooms will be created with the funding and most will open next September, adding to Maine’s existing 205 classrooms serving 4-year-old students. Another 23 classrooms already in operation will be expanded so students can attend five days a week for the full day.

With up to 16 students per preschool classroom, the award can potentially allow access to early childhood education to more than 500 additional Maine children.

Participating districts include Lewiston, Millinocket, Sanford, Westbrook, SAD 58 (Phillips, Strong and Kingfield) and RSU 3 (Brooks, Liberty, Monroe and Unity), 12 (Chelsea and Somerville), 13 (Rockland), 37 (Addison, Harrington and Milbridge), 39 (Limestone), 49 (Albion and Clinton), 53 (Pittsfield) and 74 (Anson, North Anson and Solon).

All have more than 50 percent of students at the elementary level who qualify for free or reduced priced lunch and either have no existing public preschool or do but are unable to meet community demand for more student seats.

“Quality early childhood education – whether provided by parents or private or public programs – can set students up for future success,” said Governor Paul R. LePage. “Parents are a child’s first and most important teacher, but the classrooms created with this funding will give parents in these 13 districts additional access to opportunities that can help children overcome challenges and develop the strong foundation needed to reach their full potential.”

Maine has been a leader in expanding access to early childhood education and provided $13.8 million this year in State funding to support programs, matched by $17 million locally. Enrollment is entirely voluntarily and there are currently more than 5,000 4-year-olds participating in public preschool programs in the state, more than double the number enrolled just a decade ago.

Additionally, while districts are not required to offer public preschool the Maine DOE has been working to ensure those who choose to do so are providing high-quality programs. The Department is currently in the midst of a rulemaking to put in place quality standards that a school would be required to meet in order for the State to approve their public preschool program.

“As access to public preschool increases, it’s critical we keep a focus on ensuring the quality of new and existing programs,” explained Maine DOE Acting Commissioner Rachelle Tome. “To truly give kids the strong start they need for success in kindergarten and beyond, preschool programs must be high quality, where instruction is intentional and grounded in research-based learning standards and proven best practices. That said, setting high expectations early on does not compromise the fun that children at that young age deserve. As those of us who have been fortunate to work with young children know, it’s impossible not to have fun with 4-year-olds and learning activities can be created that are both rigorous and promote play so that social, emotional, physical and intellectual development is fostered.”

The Maine DOE’s grant application earned the second highest number of points among the 36 states who applied for the federal funding, with 18 states ultimately receiving awards.

For more information about public preschool in Maine, visit www.maine.gov/doe/publicpreschool/.

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