Yesterday, July 7, the Senate passed S.2973 An Act to expand access to high-quality, affordable early education and care, a transformational bill to expand access to high-quality, affordable early education and child care. The bill makes early education 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.
Community Action Pioneer Valley is a member of the Common Start Coalition which is 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. Common Start’s advocacy was critical in the formation and passage of this legislation.
As the bill came to the floor, my team, along with great colleagues, focused on regional equity to help ensure that those charged with implementing the legislation had regionally diverse perspectives and experience. We also offered an amendment (#42) focused on “enforceable compliance standards” that would measure and enforce equity by helping to ensure that the funding proposed in this bill goes to the most vulnerable children and that families are truly able to access the programs envisioned in the bill.
The legislation 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.
Among the findings of the Commission:
- 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; and
- Require EEC to assess the extent of the current supply of licensed child care availability across the state and the unmet needs of families.
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; and
- Takes steps to strengthen the recruitment and pipeline of early educators.
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; and
- 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; and
- 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.
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.