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Updated: March 11, 2022

Report urges higher wages for Maine child care workers

woman reading to toddlers File photo / Courtesy, CEI A report released Thursday highlights the need to boost wages for Maine child care workers. Shown here is Rayitos de Sol Childcare Center in Milbridge providing bilingual child care for local families.

A group of Maine business leaders and policymakers is calling for higher wages for child care workers in order to help relieve stresses on working parents and employers that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

The case for boosting investment in child care was laid out in a report by Council for a Strong America, a national bipartisan nonprofit whose funders include Educate Maine and the Maine Community Foundation.

The report, released Thursday, notes that while Maine's child care system was inadequate before the pandemic, the situation has worsened during the COVID-19 crisis, during which 141 providers have permanently closed. Many of those who managed to stay afloat now operate with reduced capacity due to staff shortages.

That leaves many parents of an estimated 77,000 Maine children under age 6 having to make difficult choices about limiting work hours or leaving the workforce entirely.

Besides calling for wage supplements for child care workers, the report urges policymakers to embrace innovation, citing CEI's Child Care Business Lab program for aspiring entrepreneurs as one example.

Provided photo
Quincy Hentzel, right, CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, at Thursday's press conference with Kim Russell, state director of Council for a Strong America.

"Child care is a powerful means of supporting the development of Maine's children while their parents work," according to the 10-page report. "However, this potential will be only fully realized when children can attend quality programs with a highly qualified child care workforce with adequate education, ongoing professional development and sufficient compensation."

The report was released at a press conference in Portland.

"In order for Maine to recover financially from the pandemic and continue to grow economically, it's clear that we need to ensure that parents in the workforce have access to high-quality, affordable child care," said Quincy Hentzel, CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce and a member of the national Ready Nation group of business leaders promoting solutions to strengthen the workforce.

"If we don't make this a reality, we will continue to see employers and employees struggle," added Hentzel, a 2021 Mainebiz Woman to Watch

Steve deCastro, CEO of Gorham Savings Bank and fellow ReadyNation member, had a similar observation.

"Maine's child care providers perform an essential service and are a critical part of our economy," he said. "We must do all we can to attract and retain these workers and strengthen this important service sector."

Policy momentum

Thursday's report comes after a bill sponsored by Maine House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, to raise the wages of Maine's child care workers received unanimous support from the Legislature's Committee on Innovation, Development, Economic Advancement and Business.

The bill, LD 1562 ("An Act to Build a Child Care System by Recruiting and Retaining Maine's Early Childhood Educators' Workforce") would provide Maine's child care workforce with a wage supplement, as well as funding to launch or expand early childhood education programs at Maine's Career and Technical Education schools.

Gov. Janet Mills has also proposed $12 million in her supplemental budget to increase pay for child care workers and early childhood educators.

About the report released Thursday, Fecteau said, "Maine's early childhood educators support the development of our children while their parents work. They work incredibly hard and deserve access to professional development opportunities and compensation that allows them to support their own families."

He added, "Support for high-quality child care is an investment in our future economic well-being."

Heather Johnson, commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, echoed that sentiment.

"Not only do working parents need a safe place to send their kids during the day, but research overwhelmingly shows that successful programs can boost academic outcomes and even high school graduation rates," she said. "Strengthening the child care sector is a critical part of our economic recovery, and an investment in our future workforce."

Find the full report here

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