Maine lawmakers are considering a bill to expand high-quality childcare and early learning programs for Maine children. Credit: Brian Feulner | Bangor Daily News

We recently testified before the Maine Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee in support of LD 1760, a bill that will create high-quality child-care and early learning programs for Maine kids in communities across our state. We spoke on behalf of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and Educate Maine, as members of the national business organization ReadyNation, and MaineSpark, a coalition of organizations dedicated to achieving the state’s education attainment goal that 60 percent of Maine adults have a credential of value by 2025.

We shared with committee members our strong belief that increasing access to high-quality education, beginning with early learning programs and child care for Maine’s youngest learners, is one of the most important investments Maine can make to boost both today’s and tomorrow’s workforce. The strength of Maine’s workforce is critical to a robust economy and the economic security of Maine families.

The coordinated investments in high-quality early learning that LD 1760 proposes will help ensure successful participation in the modern, knowledge-based economy by helping to prepare Maine youth for the post-secondary education and training they — and Maine employers — need. A strong early start, especially for at-risk kids, helps build the social, emotional and cognitive foundations and developmental skills children need to start school ready to succeed.

Research has consistently shown how early education benefits kids throughout their schooling and in adulthood. For example, data shows that children who participate in high-quality early learning programs are 44 percent more likely to graduate from high school; 74 percent more likely to hold a skilled job; and make 26 percent more in earnings as adults.

These numbers translate into an unbeatable long-term rate of return — up to $13 for every $1 invested. The difference in lifetime earnings for a male college graduate compared to a male who did not complete high school averages $1.3 million. The lifetime average earning difference for women is more than $900,000. More post-secondary graduates mean more skilled workers, more prosperous Maine families and communities, and a stronger Maine economy in which employers also can grow.

Access to quality early learning programs also helps strengthen today’s workforce. The current lack of high-quality child care is a barrier to work for many people. Parents who are unable to find reliable child care are significantly less likely to be employed than those who do. The scarcity and cost of child care is driving many parents out of the workforce or making it difficult for parents to stay in the workforce, exacerbating Maine’s shortage of workers and damaging families’ economic security.

With 73 percent of all Maine children under age 6 having all parents in the workforce, high-quality child care is a necessity. Although these challenges affect all parents, it is important to note that it hits mothers the hardest, since mothers are more often in low-wage jobs with nonstandard hours and inconsistent schedules.

LD 1760 seeks to address these challenges and improve early learning access and participation. The proposal is designed as a community-based collaboration, using all the assets of a local community and breaking down the existing programmatic silos to reduce fragmentation in services to children and families. It offers a comprehensive, multi-generational approach, and also supports the much-needed training and technical assistance to those who work as early educators in child care settings.

Without question, high-quality child care is a key piece of Maine’s workforce today and critical to future workforce development. We are pleased Gov. Janet Mills recognizes this and has made increasing access to child care part of Maine’s new 10-year economic plan. LD 1760 is the first step in achieving this goal.

Greater access to high-quality early learning in child care settings will promote family economic security and spur economic growth. LD 1760 is real economic development and an economic imperative for Maine.

Megan Diver is a senior government affairs specialist at the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. Jason Judd is the executive director of Educate Maine.