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Archive for the ‘Cost and affordability’ Category

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Screenshot: Website of the 192nd General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Looking for excitement?

You might not think you’d find it in a fiscal year 2023 budget meeting of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Ways and Means.

But here’s the exciting part: Massachusetts is on the edge of greatness. This state could make wise, strategic investments in early education and care that could lead to powerful change. Residents of every city and town could have access to affordable, world class preschool programs that help young children thrive and grow into successful adults.

“This will take time,” Amy O’Leary, Strategies for Children’s executive director, said in her testimony to the joint committee.

It will also take visionary action.

Fortunately, Massachusetts has a blueprint for action, the final report from the Special Legislative Early Education and Care Economic Review Commission, which explains that “Building a sustainable and well-functioning system for early education and care is critical and urgent, especially for Massachusetts’s most vulnerable families.” 

There is a huge need for progress. As O’Leary explains in her testimony: 

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Photo: Yan Krukov from Pexels

A long awaited and welcome report from the Massachusetts Legislature has been released this week, and it charts a policy course for early education and care.

“Building a sustainable and well-functioning system for early education and care is critical and urgent, especially for Massachusetts’s most vulnerable families,” the report from the Special Legislative Early Education and Care Economic Review Commission says.

The commission was chaired by Representative Alice H. Peisch (D-Wellesley) and Senator Jason M. Lewis (D-Winchester), and was composed of “a variety of stakeholders… including legislators, providers, professional organizations, business leaders and employers, advocates, and state agency leaders.”

As Chair Peisch says in a press release, “Long a leader in K-12 public education, Massachusetts now has an opportunity to build on that success in the early education and child care sectors by acting on the recommendations contained in this report.” 

“This work is critical to our goals of advancing racial justice and an equitable economy that works for all,” Chair Lewis adds.

Maria Gonzalez Moeller, CEO of The Community Group in Lawrence, Mass., adds: 

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“Let’s provide investments and tax credits to… cut the cost of child care. Many families pay up to $14,000 a year for child care per child.

“Middle-class and working families shouldn’t have to pay more than 7% of their income for care of young children.

“My plan will cut the cost in half for most families and help parents, including millions of women, who left the workforce during the pandemic because they couldn’t afford child care, to be able to get back to work. 

“My plan doesn’t stop there. It also includes home and long-term care. More affordable housing. And Pre-K for every 3- and 4-year-old.”

“Remarks of President Joe Biden – State of the Union Address As Prepared for Delivery,” The White House, March 1, 2022

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Photo: Michele McDonald for Strategies for Children

There’s no need to wait for the federal government to invest in early education and care, as a WGBH news story reports. Cities and states can and are taking the lead now.

One example WGBH points to is the city of Lawrence, Mass., which has created a child care scholarship program.

“The childcare nonprofit The Community Group helped design a scholarship program for the city of Lawrence using federal funding to help get more low-income and middle-class families into subsidized daycare.

“ ‘You’re helping a parent be able to go to work and make a better living and learn skills to be able to create a better life for themselves, and hopefully get to a point where they don’t have to have the program because they can’t afford the childcare,’ said Martha Velez, Lawrence’s director of health and human services,” WGBH notes.

We’ve blogged about Lawrence’s efforts here and here.

There’s also leadership at the state level. Massachusetts lawmakers have filed the Common Start bill, which would expand access to child care. Massachusetts also has “ a state commission focused on early education and care, co-chaired by Rep. Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley, Weston, and precinct 4 in Wayland), who is also co-chair of the state’s education committee. The commission’s final report is expected in March, and Peisch said it will include a range of short- and long-term recommendations.

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“Federally funded universal pre-K has the potential to greatly benefit families, children, and the economy at large. A substantial body of research finds that high-quality pre-K can have a meaningful impact on children’s short- and long-term development, providing them with valuable skills to succeed in school and beyond. And two years of pre-K for the child also means two years of reduced child care costs for the parents. A study in Washington, D.C., even found that access to universal pre-K improved mothers’ workforce participation. And yet, despite such clear evidence of the benefits, six states still don’t offer state-funded pre-K programs for four-year-olds, and within the states that do, quality and access vary significantly depending on where a child lives, and very few programs offer universal access. But Build Back Better could provide states with the funding to improve the quality of programs and vastly expand access.”

“The Universal Benefits of Universal Pre-K,” by Aaron Loewenberg, Abbie Lieberman, and Laura Bornfreund, New America, January 4, 2022

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Screenshot: The Boston Foundation website

 

A new report from The Boston Foundation – “When the Bough Breaks Why Now Is the Moment to Invest in Massachusetts’ Fragile Child Care System” — sounds an important alarm.

“The early education and care system in Massachusetts is at a breaking point. The Commonwealth has the second most expensive child care market in the United States. Families routinely pay upwards of $20,000 a year for care for their young children,” the report says.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made an already very challenging situation worse.”

“Without public investment in early education and care, the Massachusetts economy will be unable to fully recover from the coronavirus pandemic.”

The report is based on interviews with local stakeholders who are parents, providers, and advocates, including Amy O’Leary, executive director of Strategies for Children.

“The directors I talk to are panicked,” O’Leary says in the report. “They are in their classroom from morning until night because they can’t find enough staff.”

“When programs are not able to open, when child care centers close their doors, people are going to be mad,” O’Leary adds. “And they are going to say, ‘Why didn’t anyone tell us that this was about to collapse?’” (more…)

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Photo: Thuan Vo from Pexels

The federal Build Back Better bill would make a historic investment in helping the country recover from the pandemic – including funding for early education and care that could revolutionize programs for young children.

The first step would be to reverse the damage caused by the pandemic.

As an article from the Center for American Progress explains, “While the relief funds included in the American Rescue Plan Act have limited the fallout from [the pandemic’s] unprecedented challenges, the fact remains that a market-based child care system cannot adequately serve American families.”

The article adds:

“The United States currently spends less than 0.5 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on early care and education, ranking near the bottom of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries.

“The effect of this chronic underinvestment is that under current law, very few children access subsidized care—even among those who are eligible. The Administration for Children and Families estimates that in 2017, of the 13.5 million children who were eligible for child care subsidies, only 1 in 7 received them.” (more…)

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“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation holds the position that childcare is a two-generation workforce issue because it is essential to supporting the workforce of today and vital to developing our workforce of tomorrow. There is not enough access to affordable, quality childcare which makes it difficult for parents trying to enter, re-enter, or stay in the workforce. In addition, the pandemic exacerbates existing issues in the childcare system and creates an impossible situation for parents, employers, and childcare providers. There are working parents who struggle to balance home childcare and work, children who miss valuable educational opportunities, childcare providers who are fighting to stay open and serve their communities, and employers wondering how and when their employees with children can return to work.

“Successful solutions can only be reached by jointly addressing gaps across affordability, access, flexibility, and quality.”

“Untapped Potential: Economic Impact of Childcare Breakdowns on U.S. States,” Center for Education and Workforce at The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, November 30, 2021

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Screenshot: Federal Reserve Bank of Boston website

The title of new article posted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston makes an optimistic point: “The solution is no secret, we can fix child care.”

Child care is broken, the article’s authors Sarah Ann Savage and her colleagues concede, but “child care providers, program directors, and other field experts know how to make high-quality care and early education accessible to all. It’s really no secret: Major public investment and committed political will are what’s needed.”

“The task is big, but it is not unprecedented,” the article adds. “It took both political will and public investment to implement our public K-12 system. And today there are bellwethers suggesting the time may finally be ripe to revisit our relatively minimal public investment in child care.”

This willingness and public investment would help address nagging challenges such as the high cost of early education and care, especially for low-income families.

“Models indicate that eliminating child care expenses for low-income families and capping child care expenses at 7% of income for others would decrease poverty by 40% among New Englanders in families that use child care. Covering or mitigating child care costs would also be a small step toward equity, as the poverty reduction is greatest for Black and Hispanic families.” (more…)

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Last week at the State House, early education was in the spotlight.

The Joint Committee on Education held a hearing and heard testimony on “bills related to Early Education and Care, Kindergarten, and Literacy.”

“During a virtual hearing of the Joint Committee on Education, child-care providers and advocates joined lawmakers in calling for systemic changes to an industry known for its harsh economic imbalance,” the Boston Globe reports. “Massachusetts has some of the highest child-care costs in the nation, yet the state’s child-care workers earn a median salary of $37,000 a year, barely a living wage for someone with children.”

Video of the hearing and a list of the bills is posted here.

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Among the bills that were discussed is the Common Start legislation (H.605S.362), which “would establish a system of affordable, high-quality early education and child care for all Massachusetts families, over a 5-year timeline,” according to a fact sheet. Strategies for Children serves on the Common Start steering committee, and our executive director Amy O’Leary was one of more than 70 individuals who submitted written testimony in support of the bill. (more…)

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