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Sen. Lewis leads effort in Mass. Senate to pass bill to expand access to high-quality, affordable early education and child care

On July 7, Senator Jason Lewis, the Senate Chair of the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education, helped lead his colleagues in the Massachusetts Senate to unanimously pass S.2973, An Act to expand access to high-quality, affordable early education and care. This bipartisan legislation seeks to 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 early educators and better meeting the workforce needs of Massachusetts employers. The bill is based on 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 commission was led by Senator Lewis and Representative Alice Peisch.

Having passed the Senate, the bill now moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

“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 Lewis. “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, my Senate colleagues, and the advocates who have worked so hard to make this happen.”

“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 Coalition for Social Justice Executive Director Deb Fastino, who is also the Statewide Director of the Common Start Coalition. “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.”

High-quality early education helps young children to develop stronger communication, social and cognitive skills. Investments in early education have been shown to yield long-term benefits, such as higher academic achievement and greater lifetime earnings. However, for too many families in Massachusetts today high-quality, affordable early education and child care remains out of reach or is a major financial challenge. This impacts the ability of parents, especially mothers, to enter or remain in the workforce and hurts families’ economic well-being. It is also contributing to workforce shortages and hampering the state’s economic recovery. This legislation improves access to high-quality care and affordability for families in the following ways:

  • Increases 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)
  • Makes it easier for subsidized providers to offer scholarships or discounted tuition for their private pay families
  • Requires the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) to annually evaluate and eliminate barriers to subsidy access for families
  • Requires parent fees for subsidized families to be affordable and updated at least every five years
  • Requires EEC to assess the extent of the current supply of licensed care across the state and the unmet needs of families

Even as child care is expensive for families to afford, early education providers are in crisis. Given the low wages and poor benefits that they 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 and not a sustainable solution. This legislation will help stabilize providers, improve program quality, and expand capacity in the following ways:

  • Makes operational grants to providers that were first distributed during the pandemic permanent 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 calculate subsidy rates 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 for the early educator workforce, this legislation includes the following provisions:
  • Requires EEC to develop a career ladder that links educational attainment and work experience to compensation and benefits and recommends compensation levels commensurate with public school teachers with similar credentials
  • Establishes 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 in this bill to improve and strengthen early education and child care in Massachusetts include:

  • 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, scale and regularly evaluate shared services and quality licensed hubs for early education and care programs”
  • 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

Massachusetts Business Coalition for Early Childhood Education Executive Director Tom Weber said, “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.”

Rep. Jason Lewis

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