Early childhood education (ECE) recognizes the critical importance of the early years in shaping children’s future outcomes and aims to provide them with a strong educational foundation, foster a love for learning, and prepare our youngest learners for success in later schooling and life. Early childhood education encompasses a complex system of care and learning for children before they enter kindergarten. Preschool programs refer to educational and care services available to 3- and 4-year-olds, commonly provided by family child care programs and child care centers in Maine. Pre-K programs, on the other hand, are publicly-funded offerings for 4-year-olds in the year before kindergarten. These programs may be located in school districts, home-based child care, private child care centers, YMCAs, or Head Start programs.

Maine is working toward ensuring equitable access to high-quality full-day prekindergarten experiences that promote children’s cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development. The desired outcome is for children to enter K-12 education with a solid foundation that prepares them for future academic and personal success. Maine currently lacks mandatory kindergarten readiness assessments, making it challenging to measure kindergarten preparedness accurately.

About 52% of four-year-olds in Maine are enrolled in public pre-K.

Maine has made progress in expanding public pre-K enrollment for 4-year-olds in the past decade. In 2022 and 2023, public pre-K enrollment rebounded after a significant decline amid the pandemic. The lack of full-day pre-K options is a significant reason that not more children are enrolled.

For more information about public pre-K in Maine, visit the Maine DOE website.

About 85% of Maine school districts offer pre-K in Maine.

The number of districts offering pre-K has expanded over the past decade. While access to pre-K is increasing, vast disparities remain across the state in terms of which districts offer public pre-K and whether programs meet the needs of learners and working families. In the 2022-23 school year, more than half of all SAUs (58%) operated pre-K programs that were less than 25 hours per week.

ACCESS – Is early childhood education accessible to Maine families?

All families, regardless of income, location, or other barriers, deserve equitable access to affordable and high-quality early childhood education (ECE) programs. Unlike our K-12 and higher education systems, ECE receives limited federal and state funding and is far from universally guaranteed.

Access refers to the availability and ease of obtaining early care and education and varies by several factors, including (but not limited to) geography, income, workforce shortages, and whether or not care is offered at times needed based on work schedules. Maine continues to make progress on collecting timely and relevant data related to early childhood education.

22% of Mainers live in a child care desert where there are more than 3 children under age 5 for each available slot.


Too many Maine families don’t have access to childcare close to home.  The Center for American Progress defines a child care desert as “any census tract with more than 50 children under age 5 that contains either no child care providers or so few options that there are more than three times as many children as licensed child care slots.”

% of Maine children living in a child care desert



Source: ReadyNation: The Growing, Annual Cost of the Infant Toddler Child Care Crisis in Maine 2023

69% of Maine children under 6 have all caregivers in the workforce.


Early childhood education not only influences children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development that support school readiness, ECE is essential for Maine businesses. Access to child care is indispensable as it enables parents to work and contribute to the workforce. Maine has seen a slight decrease in the percentage of children with all available caregivers in the workforce in recent years, which could be due to parents exiting the workforce due to lack of child care options.

% of Maine children with all available caregivers in the workforce



Source: Maine KIDS COUNT (2023)

AFFORDABILITY – Is early childhood education affordable?

Quality affordable child care encourages the healthy development of young children, allows parents to stay in the labor force, and represents an investment in Maine’s future. Affordability is understood as the cost of care relative to a family’s income. The cost of infant care can be comparable to college tuition expenses.

While it is important to acknowledge the financial burden faced by families, it is equally crucial to recognize that child care providers operate on narrow margins due to the inherent costs of providing quality care. Maine is making some progress in increasing affordability for families by expanding the Child Care Scholarship Program and providing wage supplements to providers.


Infant care at a child care center in Maine averages $11,700 per year.

Source: Maine KIDS COUNT (2023)


Percent of median income the average Maine family spends on childcare for ONE child. $11,700/$64,823 (2021 median household income)


Percent of median income the average single-parent family spends on childcare for ONE child


QUALITY – Is early childhood education high-quality?

High-quality child care provides an educational and social-emotional foundation for future growth and development. Research has shown that when young children have access to caring relationships, age-appropriate learning materials, and engaging activities, they are more likely to enter kindergarten ready to succeed and have better educational outcomes in the long run.

There are a wide range of early learning environments across Maine. Quality has been difficult to measure, however, Maine is making progress in this area. The current child care quality rating system for Maine, Quality for ME, will be transitioned from four steps to five stars, in a rating system called Rising Stars for Maine.

Rising Stars for Maine

241 child care sites achieved step 3 or 4. That represents 18.5% of childcare sites in Maine.

You can learn more about that system here.

Source: Maine KIDS COUNT (2023)


23% of center-based childcare providers achieved level 3 or 4.


13% of family childcare providers achieved level 3 or 4.



Early childhood educators are the workforce behind the workforce. In order to achieve accessible, high-quality care for Maine’s youngest learners, we need a well prepared, adequately compensated, and stable early educator workforce.

The median wage of a child care educator in Maine is $32,080. Maine’s current child care workforce is estimated to be around 7,600 people.

Paying early childhood educators an adequate wage is critical to acknowledge their important work and to retain them in the workforce. Maine has seen dramatic attrition in its early educator workforce because wages have not kept up with other occupations. Maine recently doubled the monthly stipend for early educators to $400/month, which is a step toward enhancing compensation and increasing retention, which is necessary to stabilize the ECE system.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2022 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates; ReadyNation: The Growing, Annual Cost of the Infant Toddler Child Care Crisis in Maine 2023

Chronically low wages for child care educators create instability in the child care sector.

The median wage of child care educators in Maine is estimated to be $32,080. The median wage for Maine’s kindergarten teachers is $57,500. Child care educators often work longer hours and have fewer benefits.

Median Wages of Child Care Educators vs. Kindergarten Teachers in Maine (2022)

Kindergarten Teachers - $57,500
Child Care Educators - $32,080

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2022 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates