Today, 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.
“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.
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.