Senate bill would support children and families, early education providers,
and the early education workforce
(BOSTON–07/07/2022) Today, Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington) joined the Massachusetts State Senate unanimously pass 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.
“This legislation will provide much-needed support to working families and schools and child care centers – the very locations that serve as the foundation of a child’s learning and early development,” said Senator Friedman, Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “Improving our early education and child care systems by making them more accessible and affordable will ensure a brighter future for more Massachusetts children. Passing this bill unanimously highlights the Senate’s dedication to ensuring that families have access to quality, affordable child care and early education.”
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
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
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
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.