FARMINGTON, Maine — Governor Mills visited the University of Maine at Farmington Wednesday, celebrating the school’s renovation plans to create a new early childhood education building.
It's an industry Mills said had its flaws exposed by the pandemic, and one Mainers will rely on to recover from COVID.
"Expanding childcare across Maine is obviously critical to our economic recovery from this pandemic, and it’s key to the success of Maine families," she said during a morning press conference inside the soon-to-be-renovated Sweatt-Winter Child Care & Early Education Center.
The facility is expected to open in January of 2023, create 20 spots for local children, and expand UMF's ECE student enrollment by 20%. On Wednesday, Mills touted millions of dollars in federal funds she’s committing to improving childcare across the state.
"As part of our Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan, we’re investing $25 million in federal American Rescue funds to help communities renovate, expand, or build childcare facilities," she said.
Katherine Yardley is an associate provost and UMF’s dean of education. She said a significant wage gap has kept many passionate teachers from choosing to pursue careers in ECE.
"The 2020 Early Childhood Care & Education in Maine Report found that the median wage for lead teacher in a childcare setting was just $34,060 a year, as compared to $53,270 for kindergarten teachers," she explained.
Mills and the school’s leaders believe new facilities like UMF’s will create better families and better teachers.
But, if they expect to fill those student-teacher spots, the jobs awaiting them after graduation need to fill their wallets as well as their spirits.