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Marcela Simpson

Photo courtesy of Marcela Simpson

All Marcela Simpson wanted was a part-time job to carry her through to graduation. She was living in her native country of Honduras and majoring in business administration at UNITEC, the Central American Technological University.

Simpson applied for a position at a school called La Estancia, a renown bilingual school where she met the school’s director, Ana Aviles, who assigned Simpson to be a lead teacher in a preschool classroom.

“That’s where it all started. I learned that I loved children,” explains Simpson.

Because her grandfather insisted, Simpson completed her Business Administration degree and came to the United States to get her master’s degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where she studied with George Forman, coauthor of The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Childhood Education.

Simpson went on to work at the Winston Prouty Center for Child and Family Development in Vermont, an early education program that provides inclusive classes for both typically developing children and for children with special needs and rights. In this position, she worked with teachers, assistant teachers, and paraprofessionals providing them with educational resources and sharing opportunities for professional development.

“Based on this experience, I felt the need to learn more about adult learning,” Simpson recalls, “and that guided me to a whole different place.” She contacted the local Resource and Referral Agency in Western Massachusetts and they connected her to provide professional development and coaching opportunities. She also joined the Institute for Professional Education, where she learned more about adult learning theories and principles.

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State House

Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

Yesterday, the Massachusetts Senate Committee on Ways and Means released its $47.6 billion budget proposal for fiscal year 2022.

WBUR reports that, “Senate President Karen Spilka said the budget bill ‘seeks to put us on a stable fiscal footing and build a more inclusive and resilient commonwealth for all of us.’

“ ‘If the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic aftershocks have frayed the fabric of our commonwealth, this budget takes on the important but sometimes invisible work of stitching that fabric back together,’ ” Spilka told reporters.

The Senate’s proposal for early education and care includes more funding than Governor Charlie Baker’s FY22 proposal, but less than the House budget.

All three FY22 budgets are well below FY21 state budget appropriations for early education and care.

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Photo: Keira Burton from Pexels

Child care has traveled a long way during the pandemic, as this New York Times article headline explains:

“How Child Care Went From ‘Girly’ Economics to Infrastructure.”

The article looks at the work of economist Nancy Folbre, a professor emerita of Economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In 1998, Folbre also won a MacArthur Foundation “genius” award because, “Her research on the family, on the work roles of family members, and on the relationships among those roles has challenged traditional economic theory.”

Or as the New York Times summarizes her work:

“You can’t measure the productivity of a child-care center the way you would, say, a car factory… The incentives are nothing alike. The profits don’t go only to the center’s owner. Instead, benefits are shared by children and their parents, and society as a whole. The country benefits from a more educated and productive work force.”

Folbre’s research stood in stark contrast to “mainstream economists, mostly men, [who] had argued that child care or other care work was something women did purely out of love, impossible to think about as an economic issue.”

The pandemic changed that.

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Photo: Alexandr Podvalny from Pexels

Across the country, preschool directors are all saying the same thing: It is incredibly hard to hire early educators.

One of countless examples is the Granite Start Early Learning Center in Nashua, N.H.

This is where “owner Joyce Goodwin said the phone hardly stops ringing as families hunt desperately for child care,” the New Hampshire Union Leader reports.

Goodwin “gets calls every day from parents looking for a place to put their children as they return to work, and weekend tours of the center are reliably full.” She could accept another 10 or 12 children, “but only if she could hire three more teachers.”

Despite placing want ads, Goodwin can’t find candidates. She’s up against the same problem as other directors, salaries in child care are “notoriously” low.

“Over the past year, hundreds of trained child care workers have left the field in search of higher-paying work and jobs that feel less dangerous in a pandemic,” the Union Leader says.

Early Learning NH conducted a workforce survey of “196 business owners, who together own about 40% of the 700 licensed day cares in the state,” and found similar circumstances. 

“Those owners could accommodate almost 2,300 more children day care — if only they could hire enough staff,” specifically 643 more staff members.

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Last night, President Joe Biden delivered his address to a joint session of Congress, calling for national progress in a number of areas, including early education.

According to a White House fact sheet, the president’s plan will “provide families with a range of options to choose from for their child, from child care centers to family child care providers, Early Head Start, and public schools that are inclusive and accessible to all children.”

Here are some excerpts from the president’s speech and some online reactions to what he said:

“Tonight, I come to talk about crisis and opportunity, about rebuilding the nation, revitalizing our democracy, and winning the future for America.”

“The great universities of this country have conducted studies over the last 10 years. It shows that adding two years of universal high-quality preschool for every three-year-old and four-year-old, no matter what background they come from, it puts them in the position to be able to compete all the way through 12 years. It increases exponentially their prospect of graduating and going on beyond graduation.”

“Second thing we need: American Families Plan will provide access to quality, affordable childcare… And I’m proposing a legislation to guarantee that low- and middle-income families will pay no more than 7 percent of their income for high-quality care for children up to the age of 5. The most hard-pressed working families won’t have to spend a dime.”

“Third, the American Families Plan will finally provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave and medical leave — family and medical leave… No one should have to choose between a job and paycheck or taking care of themselves and their loved ones –- a parent, a spouse, or child.”

— President Joe Biden
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Nicole Simonson

During this extremely unique and challenging year, I have had the privilege of interning with Strategies for Children through my graduate program in Gender, Leadership, and Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts Boston. I am also an elementary school social worker as well as a mother of two young boys, one of whom is in preschool. I came to this internship with a level of frustration and a gnawing need to examine the systemic barriers that block the children I work with from accessing timely and appropriate behavioral health services. Throughout my career as a social worker, I have worked my way backwards in a sense from helping the most severely mentally ill adolescents in a residential program to ultimately seeking work that focuses on a model of prevention for young children.

Enter Strategies for Children.

My internship project for the year has been to examine the landscape of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health (IECMH) programs in Massachusetts. For this project, I interviewed various stakeholders who encounter IECMH from a variety of angles. To those who were so generous with their time for this project, I thank you. 

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Screenshot: City of Boston website

The city of Boston is launching another child care survey, asking for feedback from Boston parents.

The survey’s purpose is “to better understand how families access and experience care for their children, ages five and under,” the survey website explains

“We want to better understand your challenges with childcare. Your answers will help inform a City policy that works for all.”

It’s an easy, quick, important way for parents to help shape public policy.

The survey asks parents and guardians about their preferences, and it asks about child care accessibility, affordability, and quality. 

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— Vice President Harris’ Facebook page, April 15, 2021

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The United States could build a universal preschool system in 30 years.

That’s according to NIEER (the National Institute for Early Education Research), which has come up with a two-part plan based on federal, state, and local government sharing costs.

“At its current pace and without federal government leadership, the United States won’t reach all children with free preschool before 2100,” NIEER Founder and Senior co-Director Steven Barnett says in a press release.

Currently, publicly-funded preschool in the United States serves only 1.8 million children, NIEER estimates. Most states, including Massachusetts, deploy their public funding to the mixed-delivery system of early education and care, which includes center-based programs, Head Start programs, and public school districts.

NIEER’s plan “calls on the federal government to match state and local-level investments in high-quality preschool for children under 200 percent of the federal poverty level. This focus will expand high-quality preschool to 2.5 million more low-income 3- and 4-year-olds by 2040.

“Building on this foundation, state and local governments would be able to expand their preschool programs to reach all 3- and 4-year-olds by 2050 and achieve universal high-quality preschool in all 50 states.

“The cost-sharing plan would enable states to set high preschool quality standards, provide children full-day preschool 180 days a year, and support competitive salaries for well-qualified teachers.” (more…)

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“Both our failing physical infrastructure and the impossible choices we impose on caregivers put our nation at a competitive disadvantage. If it is the road that gets you to work, it is the child care that gets you through the day, and workers are counting on these supports.”

“Child care needs to be a guarantee, not an expensive hassle that drives parents out of the workforce or makes them choose between wages and family. We will make it easier for people to find the care that fits their specific needs. And we will put an end to a structure that depends on the exploitation of child care workers to make child care affordable, and increase wages for the essential workers helping [to] raise the next generation.”

 

A letter from U.S. Representative Richard Neal, Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, April 5, 2021. See also “Top Democrat calling for expansion of child care support,” by Joseph Choi, The Hill, April 6, 2021

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