On Thursday, May 18 we celebrated over six years of community-driven planning and successfully awarded grants to expand broadband access in Franklin County. Thank you to our funding partners at the State, our Federal Delegation, local elected officials, citizen leaders, and our partners in education, healthcare, and business who showed up to celebrate with us!
 
As of December 2022, nine towns now have access to a fiber-to-the-home network! These include the entire Rangeley region, Chesterville, Farmington, Industry, New Sharon and Temple. There is more work to be done, but we appreciated the opportunity to celebrate what has been achieved so far with our community and organizational partners.
 

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?

During the most recent legislative session, the Maine Children’s Alliance released a brief to legislators detailing the “significant, but solvable challenge of an inadequate early care and education system” in the state of Maine, posing the question: What can we do to support the needs of our modern workforce and ensure Maine has a professional and thriving early care and education system?
 
The average annual income for child care workers in Maine is significantly lower than public school teachers, including preschool and kindergarten. A college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education has the lowest projected lifetime earnings of any college major.
 
 
In addition to not being a financially beneficial for providers, it’s unsustainably expensive for families. A married couple in Maine with a single child is spending 11% of family income on childcare. The federal benchmark for affordable care is 7%.
 
Supply is also an issue. Franklin County has the largest gap between supply of childcare and potential need of any county in the entire state.
 
 
So what does the Maine Children’s Alliance propose as strategies to build a better system?
 
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
 

Recent Posts

  • Job Opportunity: Digital Literacy Instructor
    This unique grant-funded position offers a collaborative opportunity, working in partnership with Greater Franklin Economic Development, Franklin County Adult Education, and Spruce Mountain Adult Education, known as the Greater Franklin Digital Literacy Initiative. The role involves providing digital literacy instruction to residents within Franklin County, Livermore, and Livermore Falls.
  • Jay to become a mill town once again
    John Godfrey of Godfrey Forest Products announced at a news conference Friday that he plans to manufacture oriented strand board, similar to particleboard, and bring about 125 jobs to the site of the former Androscoggin Mill on Riley Road. The side of the mill closest to state Route 4, where the digester ruptured at Pixelle Specialty Solutions in April 2020, will be torn down and a new 300,000-square-foot facility will be built. Godfrey said the investment would be in the hundreds of millions.

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