AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Legislature will be spending a lot of time in the next few months talking about more money for education. In particular, some lawmakers want to increase state funding for pre-kindergarten programs, to reach very young children.

 The Maine Department of Education says 149 of Maine school districts with kindergarten classes also offer pre-K programs. That’s 75% of the total, but it also means there are a number of districts that don’t provide pre-K. Education experts say early childhood education is vital to help small children develop their minds and be better prepared for the traditional school years.

On Wednesday, Legislators today held their first meeting of the Children’s Caucus. It’s made up of lawmakers from both parties with a strong interest in expanding care and education for preschool children and is chaired by one Democrat and one Republican. Economist Rob Grunewald of the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis told the caucus that research shows spending money now on early childhood programs will reduce costs to the government as those children grow up.

“We find we have lots of cost savings to government, “said Grunewald. “In the long run we see savings because of reduced crime costs, reduced need for social assistance, higher earnings in the workforce and ultimately higher tax revenue.”

Sen. Rebecca Millett (D-Cape Elizabeth), a strong advocate for pre-K programs, said the Children’s Caucus will work to encourage support from other lawmakers. She also said there appears to be significant support for greater use of per-K programs.

Rep. Sawin Millett (R-Waterford), a former teacher and superintendent, said there is also growing support for pre-K on the GOP side of the aisle.

There are multiple bills being submitted to ask for increased funding for pre-K programs. Governor Janet Mills has said she supports the idea but has not committed to how much more she is willing to spend in the new budget.