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Good morning. This is Governor John Baldacci.

Earlier this month, children returned to class to begin a new school year.

It’s always an exciting time for the students and their families even if it is accompanied by the end of the summer.

For kindergartners, it’s a time of first bus rides, new friends, new schools and, for many, the beginning of a formal education.

Unfortunately, some of our children arrive for the first day of kindergarten needing extra help.

They aren’t prepared to learn.

Children come from challenged homes that are at particular risk.

They are less likely to have access to quality early childhood programs than their more affluent classmates.

And they are more likely to underachieve, not meeting their fullest potential and requiring special attention or remediation.

Starting this year, we’re taking a new approach to making things better.

New England’s first Educare Center opened this month in Waterville and began welcoming new pre-school students. On Monday, we’ll celebrate the achievement with a formal ribbon cutting.

Educare is a unique partnership between state and local government and the private sector that takes a comprehensive approach to helping children and families get ready for school.

The Center’s highest priority is to help at-risk students be prepared for success.

We all know that parents are essential partners in their children’s education.

Educare combines a high-quality educational environment with family support designed to improve health, self-sufficiency and well-being.

Waterville’s Educare Center will be of particular help for families who are making the transition from welfare to work.

These working parents will know that their young children are safe and being cared for.

While the Center is located in Central Maine, its impact will be felt statewide.

It will be a demonstration site for the rest of Maine, putting the best early childhood research to work while also helping the professional development of teachers and childcare workers around the State.

Families making their way out of poverty can only do so with the support of quality early intervention and care for their young children.

Without the advantages that many of us take for granted, these kids start out behind and have a difficult time catching up.

Our public school system works hard to help, but Maine has limited resources and the costs for services that are sometimes needed are high.

Early intervention is the key for success.

Research tells us that 85 percent of brain development occurs by the time a child turns 3.

And 90 percent of brain development occurs by the time a child enters kindergarten.

It’s during these first years of rapid development and growth where public investment pays the greatest dividend.

While Educare has the potential to save the Waterville School District millions of dollars in special education costs, the Center is funded completely through existing resources and private donations.

With the generous support of Doris Buffett, the Kaiser Family Foundation, Kellogg Foundation, Gates Foundation and the Bill and Joan Alfond Foundation, Educare has become a reality for Central Maine.

In addition, Educare brings together Waterville Public Schools and the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program and several agencies within State government to provide integrated and ongoing support to the program and the families it serves.

If we want our children to be healthy, happy and successful, we have to start early.

I’m proud of Maine’s Educare Center and the promise it holds to help children get ready for school, create life-long learners and provide new opportunities for families to be successful.

Educare wouldn’t have become a reality without the dedication and commitment of many people who have worked tirelessly on the project.

First Lady Karin Baldacci and members of the Educare Advisory Committee helped to open our eyes to the possibilities of a new approach to early childhood education.

Together with countless supporters in Waterville, around the State, in the Maine Legislature, and within the Departments of Human Services and Education, Maine has taken an important step in improving the lives of children and their families.

I believe that Maine’s two most important assets are our children and our natural resources.

We have to nurture and protect both.

Educare will help to ensure that our children have the very best chance of success in kindergarten and throughout their education.

A good start can make all the difference.

Thank you for listening and have a nice weekend.

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