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Maine needs a healthy Head Start or we will fall behind

Posted May 23, 2012, at 4:38 p.m.
Last modified May 24, 2012, at 6:56 a.m.

“Corporations are people” Mitt Romney is often quoted, arguing that what is good for corporations is good for people. But this is a backwards way of looking at the truth; it’s not the cart that pushes the horse. If corporations are made of people, then what is good for people is good for corporations.

There is always talk that Maine is not business-friendly. But if we really want to attract business, the question we should be asking is, “How can we be more family-friendly?” How can we improve the quality of life here in Maine so this is the place where people want to continue to live and raise their families?

I met Paul at a Birth Roots parenting class, a new father, like me, of a beautiful baby girl. Paul works for a company with affiliates in Chicago and Portland and he told me he chooses to live in Maine even though it means he makes 20 percent less than his peers in Chicago.

Paul isn’t the only one making this choice. People always are moving to Maine from big cities such as New York because they want a different way of life and they bring their business and their clients with them.

There is something about living in Maine that transcends pure economic rationale, something about the beauty and the community that nourishes the soul. In Maine, you feel you can live better even with less money. But Maine didn’t just happen this way by accident, it took us communally investing in our future and valuing what is truly priceless.

So what can we do to make Maine the most family-friendly state? Cutting Head Start, as the Maine State Legislature just did, is the exact opposite of what we want to do. Research continuously has shown that early childhood education is the best investment we can make. A study in California’s San Bernardino County showed society receives nearly $9 in benefits for every $1 invested in Head Start children. These benefits include increased earnings, employment, family stability, decreased welfare dependency, crime costs, grade repetition and special education.

Failure to support early childhood education is catastrophic for our country and our children. The argument that by spending this money now we are mortgaging our children’s future simply cannot be made. If we don’t make this investment now there may be no family home to mortgage.

The Maine State Chamber of Commerce needs to back the reinstitution of full funding to Head Start. In fact, they need to advocate increased funding. These children are the innovators and business owners of the future.

If we want Maine and America to stay in business, investing in our children and our families is the only way to remain globally competitive. The bumper sticker says: “Maine, the way life should be.” Let’s try to keep it that way.

Please contact members of your local Chamber of Commerce and tell them to use their lobbyists in Augusta so putting families first is Maine’s first order of business.

Orion Breen is a member of Our Exchange Portland.

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