Letter to the editor: Lack of access to quality early learning economic issue for Maine

This letter originally appeared in The Portland Press Herald.

Your recent news article (Jan. 27) and editorial (Jan. 29) on a report titled “Early Childhood Programs’ Scarcity Undermines Maine’s Rural Communities” caught my attention. From a business perspective, the lack of access to quality early learning and child care programs faced by rural children and their families is a real economic challenge for Maine.

In addition to having the oldest population in the country, Maine is also the most rural state. As the report highlights, nearly a quarter – 23 percent – of kids in rural Maine live in poverty. They often lack access to resources, including early education programs and child care. In fact, the report indicates 26 percent of Maine’s rural children today live in “child care deserts,” where three times more kids are eligible for child care than there are open slots.

Quality early learning and child care programs significantly help kids build a strong foundation for success throughout school and as adults. They are a key part of the solution to increasing both the number of people in Maine’s workforce and their skill level, two of Maine’s biggest economic challenges. These programs can also serve to attract new families to our state, helping to grow Maine’s workforce.

It is an economic imperative that Maine prioritize investments that improve access to quality early care and education programs for rural kids. It also is our responsibility to make sure every child – regardless of where they live – has access to the resources and supports that will help them succeed in life.

Steve deCastro
President and CEO, Gorham Savings Bank