How Maine Can Cut Spending and Improve Kids’ Futures
AUGUSTA, Maine - The fiscal benefits from high-quality early childhood care and education are being acknowledged by the state House and the White House.
A report from the Maine Early Learning Investment Group shows the total lifetime fiscal benefit of participating in a high-quality early care and education program is more than $125,000 per child - almost five times greater than the initial cost. In other words, better-educated children do better in life and the state winds up spending less on remedial education, criminal justice, incarceration and a host of other societal costs.
"We want to use this as a call to action to see if we can't stimulate more investment from the business community, from the philanthropic community and perhaps public resources being applied towards early childhood," said Jim Clair, co-chair of the investment group.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan bill has been introduced in the Maine Legislature to make pre-kindergarten education available to all children, dovetailing with a nationwide effort pushed by President Obama. According to the Associated Press, 60 percent of Maine's school districts offer preschool but only 32 percent of the eligible population attends.
The report says there's a misperception that boosting support for early education is too costly. The study's author, Phil Trostel, a University of Maine professor of economics and public policy, disagrees.
"Even if you just want to talk dollars and cents to taxpayers, this is a great investment," he said. "That's not the reason why we want to do it - the reason why we'd want to do this is to provide better futures for our children, lead them to having more successful lives."
The National Women's Law Center is among the leaders of a nationwide push to support Obama's plan to invest some $75 billion in early childhood care and education.
"The effort here is critical to jump-start all of this," said Helen Blank, the center's director of child care and early learning, "and there's such a tremendous need that we do need a strong state and federal partnership. So what's happening in Maine, it's all terrific and it'll just all be additive."
The Maine report, titled "Path to a Better Future," says investments in early education should be considered an economic development strategy, not just a school-readiness strategy or as a way to close the achievement gap. The report is online at melig.org.