May 15, 2021
Speaker Ryan Fecteau of Biddeford presented a bill to support Maine’s child care workforce before the Committee On Innovation, Development, Economic Advancement and Business on May 11, 2021. The bill, LD 1652 “An Act to Build a Child Care System by Recruiting and Retaining Maine’s Early Childhood Educators Workforce” is aimed at addressing Maine’s child care workforce crisis.
Speaker Fecteau collaborated with child care providers, educators, and administrators to craft this bill. The bill would provide a wage supplement to support and retain the workforce while providing additional apprenticeship and scholarship opportunities to incentivize growth in this sector. LD 1652 would enshrine an investment in Maine’s child care workforce into statute, even after one-time federal dollars are spent.
“Maine’s child care workforce is at a tipping point. The pandemic only made it more clear that we can’t continue ignoring the workforce challenges child care educators and providers are facing. I want to see Maine families have access to affordable, high quality child care in every corner of the state so they can return to work knowing their kids are safe. I see this as a critical piece of Maine’s economic health. We must show that we value the hardworking Mainers who care for our youngest Mainers from age 0 to 5,” said House Speaker Fecteau. “This bill aims to recruit and retain this critical workforce so Maine families have the stability and support they need to raise families in this great state.”
Testimony was presented during the public hearing from all corners of the state, illustrating the critical need Maine communities are facing throughout the state:
“I originally wanted to go to school for early childhood education but when I found out I could get paid more being a teacher than a childcare provider I decided to change my major. In childcare, I make $12.15 which is minimum wage, and my employer cannot offer more because families are already paying the max amount they can afford. If childcare wages were supplemented the way that public school teacher salaries are, it would make early childhood education a more viable career option for students like me, who have a passion for teaching our youngest and most vulnerable children,” said Whitney Gravel, CTE student.
“Over 50 percent of educators working in child care programs receive public assistance. This has the confounding consequence of making the cost of pursuing degrees and credentials that lead to better jobs and higher wages a barrier,” said Becky Smith, Maine Community College System. “This bill’s focus on wages, as well as credentials and degrees, is critical.”
“Preparing for this hearing, I found that in 2018 wages for Maine child care workers ranged from $11.55 an hour to $12.02 an hour, or about $25,000 a year on average. I wonder how hard it is to hire and retain good workers at these salary levels. And I think about that in comparison to the field I know well: law enforcement. In 2018 the average salary of a police officer in Maine, while less than the national average, was $49,840. They are worth every penny. Our child care workers should be just as valued.” said Joel A. Merry, Sagadahoc County Sheriff, a member of the national anti-crime organization Fight Crime: Invest In Kids.
“Struggling to find high quality educators to work in our program is not a new problem. It has been a problem since day one. But in the last three months, we’ve lost eight, and now nine as of Friday, educators,” said Jordan Rossignol, owner of Miss Jordan’s Child Care and Preschool in Caribou who described losing a teacher with a degree in early childhood development to a local hardware store who could pay her more.“We’re not losing educators to other educational programs. We’re losing them to other jobs. In Aroostook County, that’s really hard on us. We can’t charge what our counterparts in Southern Maine charge, and our wages reflect that.”
“We tend to treat childcare as an entry-level job regardless of the education or skill level that has been attained,” said Heather Marden, Maine Association for the Education of Young Children. “If we can make childcare a desirable field where educators see themselves valued and they have those financial and educational supports to remain, we can begin to expand access to child care.”
“The Maine State Chamber of Commerce has a vested interest in helping to support Maine’s child care sector and we believe this bill is a priority, and a good start to helping build and sustain workers in this critical employment sector. The Maine State Chamber of Commerce is fully at this table. I was a member of DECD’s working group that drafted Maine’s 10-year economic strategy and plan, which, for the first time, includes ‘building world class child care.’” said Ben Gilman, Maine State Chamber of Commerce.
“I am 6 months pregnant and desperate to find a childcare provider for my future child. I planned my pregnancy and began adding my name to child care waitlists before conception. I am on over 20 different waitlists in the Greater Portland area. My spot ranges from 145- 28,” said expectant mother Angelina Klouthis. “Childcare providers are experiencing some of the lowest wages in the state and they do some of the most important work in our children’s lives. COVID has pushed many moms out of the workforce. As of February, the Department of Labor data showcases that nearly 3 million American women have left the labor force over the past year in a coronavirus-induced exodus that reflects persistent pay inequality, undervalued work, and antiquated notions of caregiving. This bill addresses both recruiting and retaining essential workers. Childcare providers are the backbone of our economy– I can’t work, unless I have childcare options. This bill will clearly help facilitate that for working moms like myself.”