Massachusetts Senate Passes Bill To Expand Access To Early Education & Child Care

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In full transparency, the following press release was submitted to SOURCE media by the Senate President’s office for publication. (stock photo).

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BOSTON – Today, July 7, the Massachusetts State Senate unanimously passed S.2973 An Act to expand access to high-quality, affordable early education and care.

This bipartisan legislation will transform early education and child care in the Commonwealth by making it more accessible and affordable for families, providing high-quality care for young children, strengthening early education providers, improving compensation and professional development for the early education workforce, and addressing the workforce needs of Massachusetts employers.

The bill draws from the recommendations made by the Special Legislative Early Education and Care Economic Review Commission, which was created by the legislature in 2020 and issued its final report in March 2022.

“Just as the Senate led on transforming the Commonwealth’s K-12 education system through the Student Opportunity Act, today’s bill would similarly transform the early education system,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “Unfortunately, high-quality early education remains out of reach for most Massachusetts families, and our providers struggle to keep their doors open. This bill will address those issues and make our Commonwealth stronger by making early education more affordable, investing in our early educators, and ensuring the sustainability of our providers. I want to thank Senator Lewis and the members of the Special Legislative Early Education and Care Economic Review Commission for their extensive work on this bill, as well as for the work of Chair Rodrigues and the many, many advocates and stakeholders that got us to today.”

Having passed the Senate, An Act to expand access to high-quality, affordable early education and care now moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

“With this bill, we are creating a framework to support the early education and care sector; making clear that the Senate understands the vital importance of early childhood to our economic recovery and to the health and wellbeing of Massachusetts families,” said Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D-Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “I am proud of this bill and the work that has gone into it. I thank the Senate President for her leadership in prioritizing this issue, and I want thank Senator Lewis for thoughtfully and collaboratively putting this important legislation together.”

“There are numerous benefits from expanding access to high-quality, affordable early education and child care: it enhances the cognitive and social emotional development of young children; it enables parents to work and improves families’ economic well-being; and it helps employers that are struggling with a workforce shortage,” said Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester), Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education. “This legislation makes major strides in improving affordability and accessibility of care for families, stabilizing early education providers which will improve program quality and expand capacity, and supporting the early educator workforce, many of whom are women of color. I’m very grateful to Senate President Spilka, who has long championed early education, and all my Senate colleagues for the strong, bipartisan support for this bill.”

“This issue has been a top priority of mine for many years, and I am thrilled to pass this transformative piece of legislation alongside my Senate colleagues,” said Senator DiDomenico, Assistant Majority Leader of the Massachusetts Senate and a member of the Special Legislative Early Education and Care Economic Review Commission. “As a father of two children, I know that affordable and quality early education and care is indispensable for families and their economic security. This bill will increase childcare access and help thousands of families obtain care at lower costs. Just as importantly, these investments will provide support to childcare providers and ensure people working in this field can earn a living wage, acquire higher education, and support their own families. I want to thank Senate President Karen Spilka for making this a priority and Chair Jason Lewis and Chair Michael Rodrigues for all their work to bring this important issue to the Senate floor.”

“Through my work as Co-Chair of the Future of Work Commission, it was clear from our findings that there are deep-rooted problems in our childcare system. As a parent of three, I know that high-quality childcare is hard to come by. We have the power to make childcare more accessible and affordable to our families if we invest in our early education and childcare systems, and that’s exactly what this bill does,” stated Senator Eric P. Lesser, a member of the Special Legislative Early Education and Care Economic Review Commission. “I want to thank the Senate President Spilka, Chair Lewis, and Chair Rodrigues for their tireless efforts to address these issues and I look forward to continued work for our children, families, and educators.”

“The bill passed by the Senate today is a statement to families and childcare providers across the state that Massachusetts is building the foundation for a brighter tomorrow and for generations to come. Massachusetts has long been known as a leader in education, and today, we are showing that our state leads in education from day one,” said Senator Susan L. Moran (D-Falmouth), a member of the Special Legislative Early Education and Care Economic Review Commission. “This is an investment in the economy, jobs and small businesses. Importantly, with women still largely responsible for juggling childcare with their education and careers, it is the single largest economic measure that will provide women opportunities for equality and success moving forward!”

“High-quality, accessible early education and childcare benefits our children, families, and employers,” said State Senator Patrick O’Connor (R-Weymouth), a member of the Special Legislative Early Education and Care Economic Review Commission. “The provisions included in the legislation we passed today builds on our efforts to improve affordability for families, support the care provider workforce, and expand the talent pipeline moving forward.”

High-quality early education helps young children to develop stronger communication, social, and cognitive skills. Investments in early education have been shown to yield considerable long-term benefits, such as higher academic achievement and greater lifetime earnings. Many families in Massachusetts, however, lack access to high-quality, affordable early education. This impacts the ability of parents, especially working mothers, to enter or remain in the workforce. The financial strain of child care on families is a contributing factor to workforce shortages and threatens to hamper the state’s economic recovery.

The Senate bill would improve access to high-quality and affordable care for Massachusetts families in several ways. The bill would:

  • Increase subsidy eligibility over time from the current level of 50% of state median income ($65,626 annual household income for a family of four) to 125% of state median income ($164,065 annual household income for a family of four)
  • Make it easier for subsidized providers to offer scholarships or discounted tuition for their private pay families
  • Require the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) to evaluate and eliminate barriers to subsidy access for families on an annual basis
  • Require parent fees for subsidized families to be affordable and updated at least every five years
  • Require EEC to assess the extent of the current supply of licensed child care availability across the state and the unmet needs of families

“The Common Start Coalition, made up of more than 150 organizations and thousands of parents, providers, and early educators working together to make high-quality early education and child care affordable and accessible to all Massachusetts families, is thrilled by the Senate’s passage of An Act to Expand Access to High-Quality, Affordable Early Education and Care. This legislation represents a substantial step toward implementing our full vision and tackling the ongoing multifaceted child care crisis,” said Deb Fastino, Statewide Director of the Common Start Coalition and Executive Director of the Coalition for Social Justice. “This legislation will aid educators who are working for inadequate pay, families who are struggling to afford child care, and providers who are working hard to keep their doors open and their programs fully staffed. We are grateful for the leadership of Education Committee Chairman Jason Lewis, Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Michael Rodrigues and Senate President Karen Spilka, and look forward to working with Chairwoman Peisch and House leadership to get comprehensive child care legislation across the finish line and deliver the help that parents, educators, providers, and children desperately need.”

“Due to the Legislature’s extraordinary leadership, this session, already immensely productive, is poised to be truly historic for early care and education, an issue of vital importance to the success of Massachusetts children, families, communities, workers, and the economy. Acting with great urgency and vision, the Legislature is advancing key provisions of the EEC Economic Review Commission’s blueprint for early care and education, generated by the tremendous leadership of its chairpersons, Senator Jason Lewis and Representative Alice Peisch, through the state budget and legislation that would improve the lives of Massachusetts families now and for generations to come.  The Massachusetts Business Coalition for Early Childhood Education is deeply grateful for the Legislature’s unprecedented action, which is driving progress toward a stronger and more equitable economy through the provision of affordable, accessible, high-quality early care and education” said Tom Weber, Executive Director, Massachusetts Business Coalition for Early Childhood Education.

Even though child care is expensive for families in Massachusetts, early education and child care providers are themselves in crisis. Given the low wages and poor benefits that providers can afford to pay their staff, providers face chronic challenges with attracting and retaining early educators, almost all of whom are women and many of whom are women of color. Federal pandemic relief funding has been a lifeline for the early education and care sector, but these funds are one-time.

This Senate legislation will help stabilize providers, improve program quality, and expand capacity in several ways. The bill:

  • Makes permanent the operational grants to providers that were first distributed during the pandemic and requires that a provider must be willing to enroll subsidized children in order to qualify for a grant
  • Requires EEC to use an actual cost-of-quality-care methodology for setting subsidy reimbursement rates and calculating operational grants
  • Requires EEC to reimburse subsidized providers based on quarterly enrollment rather than daily attendance of children
  • Takes steps to strengthen the recruitment and pipeline of early educators

“We applaud the Massachusetts Senate for its passage of this bill, which addresses access, affordability, and workforce challenges in Massachusetts’ early education and care sector and, importantly, makes permanent the direct-to-provider grants first made possible by the state’s Commonwealth Cares for Children Stabilization Grant Program,” said Lauren Kennedy, co-president of Neighborhood Villages. “Now, more than ever, families across our state are in desperate need of affordable care solutions that enable them to go to work and provide their children a high-quality early education that will set them up to thrive. Neighborhood Villages commends the leadership of the Joint Committee on Education and looks forward to partnering with the Massachusetts Legislature to advance this critical bill, and, together, to continue to work towards a Commonwealth in which all families have access to high-quality, affordable early education and care.”

Early educators with bachelor’s degrees earn far less than their counterparts who teach in public elementary schools, and one in six early educators lives in poverty.

To improve compensation, benefits, and professional development opportunities for the early educator workforce, this legislation:

  • Requires EEC to develop a career ladder that links educational attainment and work experience to compensation and benefits and recommends that compensation levels be commensurate with public school teachers who are similarly credentialed
  • Establishes early educator scholarship and loan forgiveness programs to provide greater access to higher education and professional development opportunities
  • Enables subsidized providers to offer free or discounted seats for the children of their own staff

Other provisions would further improve and strengthen early education and child care in Massachusetts. The bill:

  • Creates a commission to study and recommend to the legislature ways that employers could provide more support to their workers to help meet their early education and child care needs
  • Requires EEC to report to the legislature on ways to expand successful local partnerships, such as the Commonwealth Preschool Partnership Initiative (CPPI)
  • Requires EEC and the Children’s Investment Fund to report to the legislature on ways to improve and expand the impact of the Early Education and Out of School Time (EEOST) Capital Fund for making improvements to early education facilities
  • Requires EEC to create a plan to pilot and scale shared service models that can improve the efficient delivery of high-quality care
  • Creates a data advisory commission to work with EEC on expanded data collection and reporting, and the improved use of data to inform the cost and quality of care

“Beyond expanding high quality affordable early education and care for families in the Commonwealth, this act will trigger a much-needed transformation in our early education and care system by removing long standing barriers for our most vulnerable families, collecting the information necessary to ensure an equitable system, improving work conditions and recognition for early education professionals, and streamlining the delivery process for both families and service providers. This will result in immediate benefits for families, and long term, will impact the stability of the early education field, which in turn supports economic stability in our communities and improved outcomes for the children able to access high quality services” said Maria Gonzalez Moeller, The Community Group.

editor

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