Major Policy Advances for Maine Children and Youth

July 21, 2023

As the Legislature nears the end of the 2023 Legislative Session, Maine youth and children have much to celebrate. Governor Mills has signed into law dozens of bills and nearly $400 million to strengthen Maine’s education, health care, and other systems. These actions catapult Maine to the top of the nation in areas like support for child care, free school meals and community college, and paid family and medical leave and align with and support the goals of the Children’s Cabinet, reestablished by the Governor in early 2019. 

Ensuring all Maine children enter kindergarten prepared to succeed

  • Maine Dependent Exemption Tax Credit: The budget includes $4 million to make the $300 Dependent Exemption Tax Credit refundable for tax years beginning on or before January 1, 2024 and indexes the credit to inflation beginning on January 1, 2025.
  • Paid Family and Medical Leave Program: Establishes a new paid family and medical leave program, negotiated by Governor Mills to include more flexibility for businesses, and provides $25 million in one-time start-up funding. Maine will be the 13th state to establish such a program and benefits will be available as of May 1, 2026.
  • Child Care: The budget includes over $59 million in the biennium to increase existing wage support for child care workers, expand eligibility for financial assistance for parents, and strengthen Head Start, among other important changes. This ongoing state funding further advances the improvements in Maine’s child care system that have gained national recognition for supporting children, families, and the workforce. The current services budget also includes nearly $8 million to fully fund the child care salary supplements enacted in the FY2022 supplemental budget.
  • Child Safety and Family Well-Being: The budget includes just over $1 million for the coming year to fund an education campaign and resource hub aimed at parents, acknowledging the importance and challenges of parenting, as well as funding for Maine-based organizations to develop enhanced and coordinated strategies to strengthen families in Maine communities. This is part of a comprehensive plan to prevent child abuse and neglect and keep children safe by keeping families strong.
  • Preschool for Young Children with Disabilities: The budget includes an additional $10.5 million over the biennium to support collaborations between school administrative units (SAUs) and Child Development Services to support adding preschool classrooms, programming and related services. 
  • One-Time Funds to Special Purpose Private Preschools: The budget includes $15 million for payments to special purpose private schools to provide specially designed instruction for preschool students in accordance with a child’s individual education program.
  • Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation Program: The budget includes $5 million for ongoing support for programs like the early childhood mental health consultation program. The Early Childhood Consultation program provides critical tools, supports and consultation for early childhood educators in child care programs and elementary schools to address the social emotional and behavioral health needs of young children.
  • Maine’s Child Welfare System: Building on the substantial funding provided in prior budgets, it includes nearly $12 million for foster care and adoption assistance and also provides an additional $2 million for foster care reimbursement rate increases.
  • Oral Health Programs in All Schools: The budget provides $1.5 million over the biennium to expand school-based preventive oral health services (e.g., screening, fluoride varnish applications) from 219 to all 707 Maine schools by January 1, 2025. Promoting oral health among children and youth improves physical and mental health throughout their lifetimes.
  • Parent Caregiver Program: The budget includes language to allow qualified parents to provide MaineCare-funded home health aide services to their children with disabilities. This supports home-based care and family economic security, while also providing relief during ongoing workforce challenges. 

Ensuring that all Maine youth enter adulthood healthy and connected to the workforce and/or education

  • School Support: The Governor’s budget includes $101 million over the biennium to support Maine schools and continue meeting the State’s obligation to pay 55 percent of local education costs. 
  • Fully Funding School Meals at No Cost:  The budget includes full funding at $58 million for meals at no cost for students in public schools and for publicly funded students in approved private schools. Maine is one of a handful of states nationwide that has chosen to provide state funding to maintain free school meals once the federal COVID funds expired.  Maine’s law is unique in that we were one of the first in the nation to make this a policy priority. Furthermore, of the five other states with current or impending legislation, Maine and California appear to be alone in requiring all school districts to participate.
  • Career and Technical Education: The budget includes $1 million over the biennium to Career and Technical Education programs for middle school students. 
  • Strengthening Apprenticeships: $1.8 million in ongoing funding for the Maine Apprenticeship Program to support training programs designed to meet the specific needs of Maine employers through on-the-job learning and related classroom instruction. Registered apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeships are highly effective tools for workers to build their skill set and connect to high-wage careers and for employers to recruit and retain workers. In 2022, Maine apprentices who completed their program increased their average wages by 43 percent.
  • Career Exploration:  The budget includes $1.5 million to expand career exploration programming to high school students.   
  • Free Community College: The budget includes $15 million to continue providing up to two years of free community college education for all students from the high school graduating classes of 2024 and 2025 who enroll in a Maine community college.
  • Higher Education: The budget includes nearly $54 million in higher education funding to: 1) support a 4.5 percent increase for Maine’s public higher education institutions, including the University of Maine System, the Maine Community College System, and Maine Maritime Academy; 2) increase by $5 million the Maine Economic Improvement Fund which provides ongoing investment for research and development; and 3) an ongoing increase of $2 million per year for Maine Maritime Academy, permanently increasing their share of state funding.
  • Students Experiencing Homelessness: The budget includes $3 million for a 2-year pilot program to help students avoid homelessness.  McKinny-Vento Liaisons at schools will be able to provide emergency financial assistance to a family of a student in an amount up to $750 per student. 
  • Children’s Behavioral Health: The budget invests nearly $20 million in Federal and State funds for the next biennium to accelerate and intensify implementation of Maine’s comprehensive children’s behavioral health plan. The COVID-19 pandemic escalated stress, anxiety, and substance use disorders for children, youth and families and strained the behavioral health workforce. As such, these initiatives fund efforts to improve the accessibility, availability, quality and consistency of children’s behavioral health services. 
  • Supporting Youth with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD): The budget proposes to transform service delivery for adults and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities by creating a new Lifespan waiver, which will address multiple levels of need over an individual's lifetime within a single program. Currently, individuals with IDD can experience abrupt transitions as they move from children’s services to adult services. Lifespan will enroll individuals earlier (at age 14), enabling the development of a life plan and making the transition to adulthood smoother. Beginning January 1, 2025, the Lifespan waiver will enroll children (ages 14-17) and offer a range of services currently offered in MaineCare Sections 21 and 29.

These investments will improve access to services and supports to help children and families successfully navigate and make key transitions in life.