AUGUSTA, Maine — The Departments of Education and Health and Human Services have joined in an effort to improve early childhood education programs in the state despite the rejection of the concept in 2011 as part of an unsuccessful federal grant application.

Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen announced Thursday the creation of the State Agency Interdepartmental Early Learning Team, which will be focused on creating a better way to serve children from birth to age 5.

The team was one component of a lengthy application submitted to the U.S. Department of Education’s “Race to the Top” grant competition in 2011. At the time, administration officials said they would move forward with portions of the plan even though the state would not receive its request of $32.2 million out of a total of $500 million that ended up being dispersed in 2011 to California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington state. Thirty-five states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico applied for the funds.

Maine had planned to use the money to fund training and technical assistance for early childhood educators, with the goal of moving a variety of programs statewide toward collaboration and consistent quality standards. They money also would have helped develop a public report card system to inform parents about the quality of early childhood programs.

Bowen, in a news release, invited early childhood programs and professionals to join the early learning team. According to a Jan. 22 memorandum signed by Bowen and DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew, the initiative is about ensuring scarce taxpayer dollars are spent for the best possible outcomes while ensuring equal access to high-quality services for children, particularly those with pronounced needs for special services.

“[The early learning team’s] purpose is to provide a strong governance structure between the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services,” reads the memorandum. “Its goals are to ensure interagency coordination, streamline decision-making, allocate resources effectively, incorporate findings from the various demonstration projects statewide and create long-term sustainability for its early learning and development reform. The intent of the [early learning team] is to take a patchwork of early learning and development programs funded through a variety of local, state and federal sources and move them in the same direction toward a uniform standard of quality and transparency.”

The team’s progress will be tracked on a website that has not yet been launched.

More information about the State Agency Interdepartmental Early Learning Team can be found at

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.