Here’s an update on our work that is benefiting our county:
- Broadband: In March our Wilton broadband project was awarded $3.7M from the State. Wilton will be upgraded to a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network adding to our achievements in the Rangeley region and Farmington region. This represents $27M of taxable fiber infrastructure investment in Franklin county! We are working with ISP’s and towns to connect the balance of the county. Next up, Strong, Avon, Phillips, Madrid, Salem, Freeman.
- Childcare: We are collecting local data on Childcare and working with towns and businesses in addressing our region’s childcare dilemma of unmet need. Current childcare slots meet 50% of the need. This is a significant factor in preventing people from re-entering the workforce. Childcare Center projects are in the works in Farmington and Rangeley.
- Workforce Development: The very successful partnerships between our Adult Education programs and the hospital are educating nursing staff along a continuum of credentials. These graduates are finding immediate employment opportunities at the hospital and senior care centers benefitting employees and employers.
- Digital Literacy: Last fall, in partnership with Franklin County Adult Education and Spruce Mountain Adult Education, we applied for and were awarded a two-year grant ($430,000) from the State (Maine Connectivity Authority) to support the hiring of staff and equipment purchases to teach residents in ALL communities how to use the internet safely and efficiently. Another goal is to enroll our income eligible residents in the federal subscription and device subsidy program. The availability of classes has been hugely popular. Since January, classes have been taught in fourteen libraries and three partner facilities servicing more than 140 “students”.
- Workforce housing: Working with community partners and towns to develop solutions for the Route 27 corridor towns of Stratton, Coplin, Wyman, Carrabassett Valley, Kingfield.
What can we do to solve Maine’s childcare challenges?
- Support the early childhood workforce with wage supplements. Maine should increase funding to immediately support additional wage supplements while a longer-term plan is developed to increase wages. Increased wage supplements were included in the recently passed two-year state budget.
- Develop a plan to increase wages while ensuring affordable care for more families. State and community partners should develop a plan to ensure that early childhood educators are paid based on the real cost of care as opposed to the current market rate system. The plan should aim to achieve wage parity between early childcare educators and public school teachers within the next 6 years.
- Improve the cost of care model. States have historically used a market rate survey every two years to determine payment rates, but low wages in the industry have led to the current lack of available childcare. Using a different cost of care model can help states ensure that early childhood educators are paid based on the actual cost of quality care.
- Improve our data systems. First, we need a real-time supply and demand matching system to match parent needs with available early childhood education in their communities. Second, we need a childcare workforce study to determine how to support the field. Third, we need continued prioritization of an Earl Childhood Integrated Data System.
- Use contracts and grants to improve quality and supply of childcare while ensuring accountability. The Maine Children’s Alliance recommends that the state again uses contracts as a way to ensure that low-income children have access to high quality care and as a method to improve the supply of childcare in areas with critical needs.
- Expand First 4 Me and support regional community hubs. Expansion of the First 4 Me program to communities across the state could support children and families with health, nutrition, and family support similar to Head Start.
- Base reimbursement on enrollment, not attendance. Early childhood programs participating in the Child Care Subsidy Program are not reimbursed if a child is not in attendance. This policy was waived during the pandemic, but the state should eliminate the policy altogether.
- Address infant care with paid family leave. Good news on this point – the legislature just passed LD 1964, one of the nation’s most broad and generous paid family leave programs. You can read more on that here.
- Address affordability through public investment. It will require higher wages to attract and retain educators and lower costs for families to afford quality care. One solution could be to provide universal preschool for 3-4 year old children through a system including public schools, childcare centers, family care providers, and Head Start. Another solution could be to modify the subsidy program to include a sliding scale so that no parent would pay beyond a reasonable maximum level.