Access to a high quality preschool may be on the wish list for many Maine parents as they examine the benefits of early learning opportunities, and their child’s educational future. At the same time, programs can be out of reach for some parents of young children, especially as costs are high for childcare, especially for high quality programming.
Public-private partnerships can help communities meet the need for high quality pre-kindergarten education, and are an efficient model for assuring that programming is accessible for all children. In Maine, the state encourages early education partnerships, although decisions about whether to create public preschool programs are left to local school districts.
Conversation about public-private preschool partnerships is relevant in today’s world as local communities and the nation grapple with the concepts and benefits of universal pre-k accessibility for all children. In an important step forward, Maine recently adopted new early learning guidelines. Maine’s Early Learning and Development Standards (MELDS) outline what children should know and be able to do by the end of preschool. The new standards are a revision of Maine’s Early Learning Guidelines which were created in 2005. The new standards are in alignment with the Federal Head Start program’s curriculum and philosophy on early education and preschool learning. All public preschool programs in Maine will need to demonstrate how their curricula and assessments align with these standards.
This is where public school partnerships with private and nonprofit agencies can be a great approach. In addition to bringing additional resources to the table, collaboration offers schools access to experienced and qualified early education teachers, and support from agencies that have a wealth of expertise in meeting the high quality standards as outlined by Head Start, childcare licensing, and other regulatory bodies.
The Federal Head Start program is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, and Head Start agencies have a long history of best practices in early education. They also have the benefit of experience with the infrastructure and oversight to assure that regulatory standards are met every day in every classroom.
The demand for public-private preschool partnerships isn’t going away. According to National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), in 2014, 65% of Maine’s schools offering kindergarten also offered preschool. During the 2014-2015 school year, 4,756 children were enrolled in preschool programs for 4-year-olds which is a 27.8% increase from the previous reporting period. For public schools and private agencies, working together to share financial resources and professional expertise makes sense. It’s a model that benefits the whole community by making it affordable to offer high quality preschool to as many children as possible. It is also a model that has significant financial benefits to the community: a recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology report found that because of better social behavior and higher earnings (which generate more tax revenue), each dollar spent on early childhood care and education saves taxpayers $13 in future costs.
Child and Family Opportunities (CFO) is a private Head Start/Early Head Start agency serving children and families in Downeast Maine. Currently celebrating 45 years of providing high quality early education, the agency has been a leader in developing models for successful public-private preschool partnerships.
In 1999, CFO began its first pre-kindergarten collaboration with the Calais Elementary School. The partnership is the oldest public pre-k Head Start partnership in Maine, and has served as a model for other public schools. The agency currently partners with seven public schools in the Downeast region. These collaborations are located in Harrington, Milbridge, Ellsworth, Calais, Sullivan, Bucksport, and Prospect Harbor.
In addition to its public school collaborations, CFO provides Head Start, Early Head Start, and full-day preschool and infant toddler care. All of its licensed centers are rated Step 4 on the Maine Quality Rating System – the highest quality rating possible. CFO is the only preschool provider in Washington County and one of only two in Hancock County to hold this rating.
For more information about Head Start, early education public school collaborations, and Child and Family Opportunities, go to www.childandfamilyopp.org.