While President Obama’s proposal to make preschool universally accessible is being pushed on the federal level, six states in the country – Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, Illinois, New York, and West Virginia – are already working on such plans. Maine is poised to join that group with a bipartisan bill introduced on May 17, as Education Week reports:
The legislation would set up a framework for early-childhood education and aims to have the plan in place by the start of the 2017-18 school year, a press release from the Senate Democrats states.
Currently, 60 percent of Maine’s school districts offer preschool, the Associated Press reports. About 4,500 4-year-old attend such programs—32 percent of the eligible population. […]
[State Senate Majority Leader Seth] Goodall’s bill would offer up more than $1 million for the initiative. The money would be parceled out to school districts which would then develop or expand early-childhood offerings. A new position would also be created at the state’s Department of Education to oversee such an effort.
The state legislature is dominated by Democrats in both houses, but the biggest hurdle will be getting Gov. Paul LePage (R) on board. Education Week pointed out that in the past he has been in favor of privatization and most interested in funding for grades 1-3.
Expanding early childhood education has a big impact on children, who can see $11 of economic benefits over their lifetimes for every dollar spent on the programs. They are more likely to stay in school and go to college and less likely to become teen parents or commit violent crimes. It also has an important effect on the economy at large, which can see $7 in savings for every dollar spent. One study of universal programs found they increase human capital and national gross domestic product.
But many states have actually been cutting back on spending for these programs. States are spending the lowest amount per child in Pre-K in a decade, and last year was the largest drop in funding ever. Overall, the U.S. falls behind most developed peers in the percentage it spends on early childhood education.