What is MELIG? The Maine Early Learning Investment Group, or MELIG, is a growing group of business leaders who understand that the success of Maine’s economy depends on educated, skilled and innovative workers. These leaders are concerned with student achievement and the quality of Maine’s future workforce and are actively working to improve both. To this end, they have launched an initiative to raise and invest funds in the healthy development of Maine’s youngest children and their families.
What is MELIGʼs mission? MELIG’s mission is to increase the education and skill levels of Maine people by ensuring that all children are fully prepared when they enter kindergarten.
Why is MELIG focused on early childhood development? MELIG members know the vast majority of critical connections in the brain are built in the first few years of life—as much as 85%. The brain is more receptive and responsive to experiences (good and bad) than it will ever be again. Stable, nurturing relationships with caring adults promote healthy brain development. The lack of such relationships often leads to developmental problems.
MELIG members know that a healthy environment rich in reading and vocabulary for very young children is the surest way to guarantee success in school, work and life. Early experiences and positive interactions with parents and other caregivers further cultivate intellect, personality and skills and set the stage for lifelong development. Research shows that young children who are developmentally prepared for kindergarten do well in school and life, while children who start behind most often stay behind.
Why is more investment needed? On average, 37 babies are born each day in Maine. At current investment levels, we can reasonably predict that, in five years, 15 of the 37 babies will arrive at kindergarten without the developmental skills to succeed. Most of these kids will be unable to read by the fourth grade (as many as 70% of Maine children can’t read at a proficient level as they enter the 4th grade.) Half of the 15 will drop out of high school. Few will continue beyond high school. This scenario is unacceptable. It is clear that we must invest in order to improve the learning capacity for so many Maine children.
What actions will MELIG take? MELIG established a donor advised fund at the Maine Community Foundation, and direct contributions to it. Distributions will be targeted to proven strategies to strengthen parenting skills, increase the quality of early care and education providers and assist families with accessing the highest quality programs. Emphasis will be given to children birth to three to take advantage of the earliest brain development and to vulnerable children in at-risk communities. MELIG members will also educate other business leaders and the public about the value of healthy early childhood development and will advocate for increased public investment.
How will MELIG operate? MELIG members are investors in quality early childhood; MELIG does not provide direct services. They partner with existing direct service organizations and use and improve existing delivery systems to increase the effectiveness and availability of services such as parenting education, home visiting and early childhood care and education. MELIG does not supplant state or federal funds; rather it will embrace a public/private partnership dedicated to improving the success of Maine’s economic future.
- A market-driven approach will be used to increase the quality and quantity of early childhood education.
- Proven, evidence-based programs will be targeted for investment.
- The effectiveness of investments will be continually measured.
- Actions will be coordinated with those of other early childhood funders (e.g., United Ways) to maximize results.
- Private investments will serve to leverage (rather than replace or deter) public investments.
- Increase high quality learning environments for young children, with emphasis on birth to age three and vulnerable children in at-risk communities.
- Increase services (such as home visiting, targeted provider and parent coaching and mentoring) that support parents and strengthen families.
- Educate the business community and the general public about the value of high quality early childhood education.
- Advocate for increased public investment in high quality early childhood education.
Mission: MELIG’s mission is to increase the education and skill levels of Maine people by ensuring that all children start kindergarten fully prepared to succeed.
Vision: Maine workers will possess superior education and skills to ensure that Maine businesses thrive in the global economy.
Actions: MELIG will accomplish its mission through fund development, targeted financial investments and strategic partnerships, public education and advocacy.
Current MELIG Members
Jim Clair, Co-Chair, President, Goold Health Systems, an Emdeon Company
Chris Emmons, Co-Chair, President/CEO, Gorham Savings Bank
Eleanor Baker, Former Managing Principal, Baker Newman Noyes
Susan Corbett, CEO, Axion Technologies
Kevin Mattson, Managing Partner, Dirigo Capital Advisors
Jackson A. Parker, President/CEO, Reed & Reed, Inc
Larry Shaw, President/CEO, MMG Insurance
Meredith Strang Burgess, President/CEO, Burgess Advertising and Marketing
Past Founding Members
- John Peters, Former CEO
- Beth Newlands Campbell, President
- James (Jim) Conlon, President/CEO
Bangor Savings Bank
- Steve Rich, Former President/CEO
Human capital is, and always will be one of Maine’s greatest natural resources. Wise investments in human capital development increases workforce capacity, raises productivity and social cohesion to assure Maine’s economic competitiveness in a global economy. Specifically, return on investment in early care and education yields a range between $7 and $16 for every $1 invested.i
Strengthening Maine’s Economy Starts Now, with Our Youngest Children.
Human capital development starts in early childhood, in the first five years of children’s lives. Progress in neuroscience makes it imminently clear that early experiences shape the developing brain, building the foundation for lifelong learning, behavior and health. Neuroscience findings and longitudinal research reveal that early education is key to later school success, especially for children living in poverty. Yet, public policies and funding priorities often lag behind. Investments in early care and education programs, Head Start, home visiting, parent education and mentoring programs, and other proven interventions are poorly funded. Quality is often lacking.
Maine’s students are not where they should be…
Students are underperforming across Maine.ii By fourth grade, two-thirds of Maine children (67%) are not proficient at reading. More than half of students are not proficient at math (55%).
Once students start underperforming, they continue down this path. In eighth grade, 62% of Maine children are not proficient in both reading and math.
Underperformance is exacerbated for lower income children. Half of Maine’s children come from low income families as defined by student participation in the USDA free and reduced rate school lunch program.iii 80% of fourth grade students and 75% of eighth grade students who live in low income families are not proficient at reading. Further, 69% of fourth grade students and 75% of eighth grade students are not proficient in math.
Right now, the majority of students across Maine, the state’s future workforce, will likely not be prepared to contribute in meaningful ways to the 21st century economy.
Maine’s prosperity is directly linked to how we treat our youngest children. The promotion of early childhood experiences that are nurturing, stable and interactive for all young children, regardless of income or where they live has the potential to lift the Maine economy.
Addressing the concern of academic underperformance in middle and high school is too late. The early brain architecture formed from early experience affects future activitiesiv. A documented link exists between a child’s knowledge in kindergarten and their later skill sets in reading comprehension, vocabulary and general knowledge (in 11th grade). Attempting to change that trajectory after kindergarten is costly and not nearly as effective as when the brain is forming the foundation upon which all other learning happens.
And, addressing these concerns later adds substantial costs. Maine’s annual cost of providing special education is approximately $300 million.v Maine serves a higher proportion of children with special needs (18%) than the national proportion of 15% of children served in special education.vi
Exposing young children to high quality environments is a proven way to bolster children’s brain development. Early exposure to education can mitigate the deleterious effects of poverty.
Maine does not currently have the infrastructure to support high quality experiences for Maine’s children. Maine does not currently have the resources required to provide high quality early learning programs.. The amount of licensed child care programs is considerably lower than demand. Only one in three children who qualify for Head Start receive the services due to limited federal and state funding.vii 25 percent of Maine’s 4-year-old children are served in a public pre-kindergarten programviii And only 10-15% of eligible families are served by the Maine Families home visiting program.ix
The quality of services is also lacking.x Of the licensed child care centers enrolled in Maine’s quality rating system, less than a third (28%) are at the highest step of quality. Only 68% of programs are enrolled in this quality rating system leaving nearly a third of programs with unmeasured quality. Of family child care homes, where the majority of young children in Maine are in care, quality is severely lacking. Of the approximately 555 family child care homes enrolled in the quality rating system, only 30 (5.4%) are at the highest step of quality.
High quality child care is supported by training, intentionality and tenure of Maine’s child care workforce. The barriers to meeting this need include the availability of training opportunities, increasing early educators’ wages, and providing opportunities for advancement so that providers are able to stay in their field longer and add to the expertise necessary to help children prepare for school and other life experiences.
Elevate Maine will strengthen the early education infrastructure, changing children’s trajectories resulting in a positive impact on Maine’s economy.
Elevate Maine will build the human capital of Maine by supporting child care workforce advancement and training, providing parent education and mentoring on the local level and public awareness on a statewide level , and by directly providing high quality child care to low income children. Elevate Maine will, thus, positively influence the experiences of Maine children in early care and education programs in different parts of the state as well as improve the long term quality of their early childhood experiences.
Endnotes for Case StatementiHeckman, J. J. (2006). “Skill formation and the economics of investing in disadvantaged children.” Science, 312, 1900–1902; Heckman, James. jec/senate.gov/archive/hearings/06.27.07; Schweinhart, L. J., Montie, J., Xiang, Z., Barnett, W. S., Belfield, C. R., & Nores, M., Lifetime effects: The HighScope Perry Preschool study through age 40. (Ypsilanti, MI: HighScope Press, 2005); Campbell, F. A., Ramey, C. T., Pungello, E. P., Sparling, J., & Miller-Johnson, S. (2002). “Early Childhood Education: Young Adult Outcomes from the Abecedarian Project.” Applied Developmental Science, 6, 42-57. iiStudents underperforming data: 4th and 8th grade math and reading statistics are from U.S. Dept. of Education National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results, 2011. 12th grade reading and math statistics are from 2009-2010 Maine High School Assessments. iiiExtrapolated and rounded from 2010 U.S. Census data for Maine; and “Annual Social and Economic Supplement of the Current Population Survey 2010”, National Center for Children in Poverty, Maine Early Childhood Profile. “Low income” is defined as income at or below 185% of Federal Poverty Level (FPL) for purposes of this paper. The approximate percentage of kindergarteners who are low income (45%) is based on the fact that 44% of Maine K–12 students qualify for the federal free or reduced lunch program (eligibility up to 185% of FPL) as well as the fact that 50% of Maine children under age 6 live at or below 200% of FPL (National Center for Children in Poverty, 2009.) ivHarvard Center for the Developing Child,
www.developingchild.harvard.edu vProgram expenditures (rounded) from budget data of Maine Department of Education. 2010 viMaine and national Department of Education data viiMaine School Readiness Report, 2012, by Maine for Maine Children’s Growth Council viiiMaine School Readiness Report, 2012, by Maine for Maine Children’s Growth Council ixMaine School Readiness Report, 2012, by Maine for Maine Children’s Growth Council xwww.qualityforme.org/QRS_Enrollment/state.aspx. Maine Child Care Quality Rating System Status—Statewide.” Based on enrollment data as of December, 2012.