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Maine Lawmakers Tinkering With Plan to Offer Universal Preschool

Maine would become the seventh state in the union to offer voluntary universal preschool via school districts under a widely supported bi-partisan bill introduced May 17.

The legislation would set up a framework for early-childhood education and aims to have the plan in place by the start of the 2017-18 school year, a press release from the Senate Democrats states.

Currently, 60 percent of Maine's school districts offer preschool, the Associated Press reports. About 4,500 4-year-old attend such programs—32 percent of the eligible population.

"Early childhood education is one of those issues where there is so much unity about its importance and so much agreement about expanding it," said Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall in a statement.

Goodall's bill would offer up more than $1 million for the initiative. The money would be parceled out to school districts which would then develop or expand early-childhood offerings. A new position would also be created at the state's Department of Education to oversee such an effort.

Garnering the governor's support is by far one of the largest hurdles, said Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the Maine Education Association, in an interview.

She noted that the legislature is dominated by Democrats in both the Senate and the House.

"Most people are for this," Kilby-Chesley said. "But we have a Lone Ranger for a governor."

The office of Gov. Paul R. LePage declined to comment on proposed legislation but in the past the Republican has articulated that he's most interested in funding education initiatives in grades 1-3 and in privatization.

As of 2009, only Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma provided universal preschool—a concept advocated by President Barack Obama. The states of Illinois, New York, and West Virginia are working to build similar systems.

To see what other states are doing, click here.


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