Blog | February 1, 2021

How Early Childhood Programs’ Scarcity Undermines Maine’s Rural Communities

Film and report highlight early childhood challenges in rural Maine

Last week, community leaders from business, law enforcement and retired military released a new report entitled “Early Childhood Programs’ Scarcity Undermines Maine’s Rural Communities.” The report highlights the disproportionate challenges that rural families face, including higher rates of poverty and greater barriers to accessing high-quality early childhood programs and other supports. With Maine being one of the most rural states in the US, research shows that the long-term strength of Maine’s workforce, public safety, and national security will rely heavily on investments in rural programs and resources.

A short film accompanied the report release and included interviews with Council for a Strong America Maine’s community leader members, alongside SAD 54 Superintendent of Schools Jon Moody, Elevate Maine’s Program Director Tracye Fortin, home care provider Chrissie Davis, and Carolyn Courtney, parent to twin 4-year-old boys.

Kids in rural child care

Chrissie Davis, a home-based child care provider in Skowhegan, with children under her care

SAD 54 Superintendent of Schools Jon Moody said that he can tell when young children start school having had quality early learning experiences, and that these experiences help set students up for success. “The difference when kids come in and they’re well-prepared is significant,” he explained.

When students are set up for success, they’re more likely to stay out of trouble. Fight Crime: Invest In Kids member and Commissioner of Corrections Randy Liberty knows, “Nationally, 60 percent of the individuals that arrive in custody or are incarcerated in the nation, have no GED, no high school diploma. [But] if youth get a quality education, quality child care early on, prior to kindergarten, they have really good outcomes.”

Disparities in outcomes can affect not just a local community, but also its contributions to national security. As Mission Readiness member Major General (Ret.) Bill Libby, U.S. Army, former Maine Adjutant General, explained, when kids are given a strong educational foundation, they’re more likely to have a high school diploma, no criminal record, and a greater fitness ability. These outcomes allow young adults who wish to join the military to qualify for service. As it stands, only 32 percent of the recruiting pool, ages 17-24, are qualified for military service. “I just hate to see young men and women being denied any opportunity in whatever path they choose because they are not prepared,” Major General Libby explained.

Jason Judd, Executive Director of Educate Maine and a member of ReadyNation, made the business case for strengthening early care and education across all of Maine, particularly in rural areas: “If we were able to offer high quality child care for every family across the state, regardless of where they lived in Maine, we would have a thriving workforce and a wonderful economy. We would have people wanting to move here specifically to work and raise their children. That’s how important this investment is to students, families, the economy, and workforce attraction.” Parent Carolyn Courtney echoed the importance of child care availability for working parents: “I have twin boys. Providers either didn’t have any openings or didn’t have two openings. In this rural community finding quality child care is definitely a huge stressor. You have to be at a job for 40 hours a week and you might not have somewhere to send your kids.”

For further information, please see Council for a Strong America Maine’s new report and watch the accompanying film. They make it clear that lawmakers need to invest in these programs to better the lives of children and families in these areas to make the nation stronger as a whole.

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