In the course of my career in the energy business, I have developed my share of business plans and made hundreds of decisions to ensure the prosperity of my companies. Sitting on the board of the Maine Children’s Alliance, I have come to believe that whether Maine will have a prosperous future depends, in large part, on our ability as a state to produce strong, capable children who can lead tomorrow’s communities, and run the businesses of the future.

If we expect productive output, so to speak, we have to invest in the inputs.

So how can we do this?

The latest science says the best way is to provide kids with stable, responsive relationships and positive learning experiences — conditions that literally build the architecture of the developing brain.

Not all children have such opportunity. Exposure to violence, poverty or other challenges can produce what science calls “toxic stress,” which damages growing brains. Luckily, there are already early childhood programs in place that even-up the playing field.

To my mind, Maine’s been doing it right by providing state funding steadily for the three key early childhood programs — child care, home visiting and Head Start. These programs provide child care so that parents can keep working, professional home visitors who can promote healthy child development, and education for children age 0-5 that includes comprehensive services to support their health, social, emotional and intellectual development.

Money invested in those programs is sent forward to the next generation, giving them a better chance for success in tomorrow’s community life and work force.

That view is widely shared. In a press release accompanying the state’s Race to the Top application, Gov. Paul LePage stated, “Guaranteeing children a solid educational foundation before they begin kindergarten is the first crucial investment we, as a state, can make in a future work force that will drive economic growth in Maine.”

The Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine Development Foundation issued a report last year titled “Making Maine Work: Investment in Young Children = Real Economic Development.” And, there is a group of CEOs in Maine — the Maine Early Learning Investment Group — who support early childhood education as singularly important to future work force development and economic health.

National groups such as America’s Edge, Mission Readiness and Fight Crime: Invest in Kids are business, military and law enforcement groups which highly value early childhood investments.

Yet, here in Maine, it appears our business plan has run amok: our funding decisions in recent years have sent us backward.

As a state, we have reduced funding to home visiting, child care and Head Start by 48 percent over the past three years, from nearly $19 million to just under $10 million.

On top of that, Maine’s Head Start program is being reduced as a result of the federal sequestration — another hit of $1.6 million.

Why are we cutting the very programs that help ensure healthy development and a more secure future for our children and the communities they will live in? To be economically wise, we must change directions and face forward again.

Legislation is currently pending to restore critical funding to Head Start, child care and home visiting. The Maine Children’s Alliance believes that these bills deserve full support. By so doing, Maine can re-establish funding for early childhood as one of its highest state funding priorities.

Our economic future and thousands of Maine children and families depend upon it.

David Martin is a resident of Jefferson and is the chairman of the board of the Maine Children’s Alliance, a non-partisan research and advocacy organization in Augusta.

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