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Next month, Massachusetts will have new leadership, so it’s time for advocates to learn about and reach out to key players in state public policy.

One good place to start is learning about the transition teams that have been created by Governor-elect Maura Healey and Lieutenant Governor-elect Kim Driscoll.

The key committee for early childhood advocates to focus on is called “Thriving Youth and Young Adults.”

Chaired by Amanda Fernandez, the CEO of Latinos for Education, and Worcester Public Schools Superintendent Rachel H. Monárrez, the committee is looking at, “How we address learning loss from the pandemic and give all children and families equitable access to the educational, social, emotional and behavioral supports they need.”

Serving on the committee are well known members of the early education and care community, including:

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The Early Childhood Agenda is making progress. This convening series hosted by Strategies for Children has brought together more than 400 individual advocates and partners. Participants have been meeting in five working groups to identify systemic challenges and set priorities.

Last week, participants attended a whole group meeting – dubbed “Bringing it all Together” and recorded in the video above – to talk across the Agenda’s working groups and ensure that the groups’ efforts are aligned and that any gaps in the work are addressed.

Among the themes that were discussed:

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Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

Great news! Early education and care got a financial boost earlier this month when Governor Charlie Baker signed a $3.76 billion economic development bill into law.

As our FY’23 budget webpage explains, this investment includes “an additional $150 million to continue the C3 Stabilization Grants through the end of the fiscal year in June 2023, and an additional $315 million in the newly created High-Quality Early Education and Care Affordability Fund.”

We are grateful to the Legislature for passing this bill and to the governor for signing it.

In a State House News story that ran in the Sentinel & Enterprise, Baker says Massachusetts can invest in child care and be fiscally prudent:

“Recognizing the importance of childcare investments, I am approving sections in this bill that redirect $315 million from the Commonwealth Taxpayer Relief Fund to the High-Quality Early Education & Care Affordability Fund. However, we can invest in childcare and make sensible tax changes at the same time. With the state in a historically strong fiscal position, the tax cuts that the Legislature has committed to prioritizing next session will be affordable without a special set-aside.”

A WBUR report focuses on the relief for some workers, noting:

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Congratulations to Maria Gonzalez Moeller for being appointed by Governor Charlie Baker to the Board of the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC)! 

As the CEO of The Community Group (TCG) in Lawrence, Moeller brings the perspective of early educators and families, and she has become an expert in managing the global pandemic so that children and families can get needed support.

She can also share how local early childhood innovations have helped move Massachusetts through the Covid-19 era.

“We had to do everything from scratch,” Moeller says of how her staff coped with the pandemic, “and we adjusted and evolved. That required a lot of flexibility from our staff and a lot of empathy. We knew everyone was going through a hard time.”

To keep its early childhood classes running even when staff were out sick with Covid, The Community Group developed its own employee pipeline, an apprenticeship program for early educators that began as an internal pilot program and then, with funding from the United Way, expanded to include other early childhood centers in the city.

“Training has been a big priority for us, specifically training in Spanish,” Moeller says. “There are a lot of new residents who come to Lawrence looking for a new career. Many of them are women who were teachers in their own countries. So we offer them the opportunity to become an early childhood professional.”

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Massachusetts is a leader in educational excellence, but not for all its students.

As a new report – “There Is No Excellence Without Equity: A Path Forward for Education in Massachusetts” — from the Massachusetts Education Equity Partnership (MEEP) explains, “for a long time now, our state’s high overall rankings have masked deep inequities in student learning experiences and outcomes.”

Strategies for Children is a MEEP member.

The disparities the report cites were bad before Covid hit, and many have been aggravated by the pandemic.

“In parts of Boston and cities like Chelsea, Brockton, and Springfield, where infection and death rates were highest, the pandemic inflicted new levels of trauma and anxiety on families already facing significant adversity,” the report says.

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The new 2022 KIDS COUNT Data Book is out. It’s the annual, Annie E. Casey Foundation report that takes a deep dive into how the nation’s children are doing.

This year, the data book points out that while the pandemic and widespread economic uncertainty have caused harm, there are also pockets of progress. 

This year’s report focuses on children’s mental health.

“As of July 2022, the health crisis had killed more than 1 million people in America, including more than 1,600 children,” the foundation says of the pandemic’s impact. “During this same time span, more than 200,000 kids had lost a parent or primary caregiver to the virus.”

This has “helped fuel what the U.S. surgeon general has called a mental health pandemic for youth. According to the Data Book, the incidence of anxiety and depression among kids has spiked. Comparing pre-pandemic to the first year of the COVID-19 crisis: The share of children struggling to make it through the day rose nearly 26% — from 9.4% (5.8 million kids) in 2016 to 11.8% (7.3 million kids) in 2020.”

Another challenge is racial and eth­nic dis­par­i­ties that have con­tributed to “dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly trou­bling men­tal health and well­ness con­di­tions among chil­dren of col­or. Nine per­cent of high-school­ers over­all but 12% of Black stu­dents, 13% of stu­dents of two or more races, and 26% of Amer­i­can Indi­an or Native Alaskan high-school­ers attempt­ed sui­cide in the year pri­or to the most recent fed­er­al sur­vey.”

In addition, “many LGBTQ young peo­ple are encoun­ter­ing chal­lenges as they seek men­tal health sup­port. Among het­ero­sex­u­al high school stu­dents of all races and eth­nic­i­ties, 6% attempt­ed sui­cide; the share was 23% for gay, les­bian or bisex­u­al students.”

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Photo: Huong Vu for Strategies for Children

The federal government has just released new Covid guidance for schools, camps, and for early childhood programs.

One key change is that people who have been exposed to Covid no longer need to quarantine.

“We’re in a stronger place today as a nation, with more tools—like vaccination, boosters, and treatments—to protect ourselves, and our communities, from severe illness from COVID-19,” Greta Massetti says in a press release from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Massetti is a CDC senior epidemiologist. “This guidance acknowledges that the pandemic is not over, but also helps us move to a point where COVID-19 no longer severely disrupts our daily lives.”

Instead of quarantining, those who are exposed to Covid should “wear a high-quality mask for 10 days and get tested on day 5.”

Educators and providers in Massachusetts can also refer to the state’s related guidance.

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“With the Commonwealth in a historically strong fiscal position, the FY23 budget supports tax relief for hundreds of thousands of taxpayers, while making record investments in education and local aid,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “Since coming into office, our Administration has worked closely with the Legislature to ensure the budget is structurally sound and protected from unpredictable economic fluctuations, and I am pleased to sign another budget that maintains this commitment while making investments help Massachusetts’ families and communities grow and thrive.”

“The FY23 budget maintains our Administration’s strong support for the Commonwealth’s cities and towns and expands services in acute areas of need, like housing stability, education and childcare access, workforce development, transportation, substance addiction treatment, and behavioral health care,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. “This funding will further our work to encourage the economic growth of our communities, promote equitable access to opportunity and support the health and wellbeing of all residents.”

“Governor Charlie Baker Signs Fiscal Year 2023 Budget,” Governor’s Press Office, July 28, 2022

For detailed information about the early education and care items in the budget, please visit Strategies for Children’s state budget page.

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Federal Reserve photo

Photo: Huong Vu for Strategies for Children

What happens when an early educator and a community leader team up with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston?

Everybody wins.

That’s what occurred when two members of the Boston Fed’s Leaders for Equitable Local Economies (LELE) program saw the damage caused by the pandemic.

“After COVID-19 hit, Marites MacLean and Beth Robbins noticed a worrying trend: Dozens of child care centers were closing across central Massachusetts. And as families lost reliable child care, local businesses increasingly struggled to fill jobs,” a Boston Fed article says.

MacLean is a longtime early educator and one of Strategies for Children’s original 9:30 Call participants. Robbins was helping “jobseekers through a local nonprofit called WORK Inc.” Both women are also residents of Fitchburg, Mass. And the LELE program they participate in supports and strengthens leaders like them who are “taking on the critical work of rebuilding economic systems in Massachusetts’ smaller cities.”

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“Child care provider Damaris Mejia is about to get the biggest pay raise of her life, starting this summer: the District of Columbia will send her and her co-teachers each a big check, between $10,000 and $14,000.

“At last, ‘I will have happy teachers!’ she says, laughing.

“It’s part of a broader push — made more urgent by the pandemic — as D.C. and dozens of states try different ways to fix a child care system that is badly broken. Some are using temporary pandemic aid, while others seek longer term funding. Last year, Louisiana passed a sports betting bill that designates 25 percent of revenue for early learning programs. Wherever the money comes from, advocates across the country say something must be done to ease the fundamental challenge of providing care families can afford, while allowing providers to earn a living.”

“Mejia pays her teachers $17 an hour. Now, that’s well above the national median of $13 an hour that makes child care one of the country’s lowest paid occupations. But in pricey D.C., it’s barely above minimum wage, which became $16.10 as of July 1. Mejia earns about $30,000 a year. Her profit margin is so thin, she’ll sometimes forgo her own pay to meet bills, and she’s behind on taxes.

“She says her pay bump will go first toward helping pay those back taxes. One of her teachers, Ana Gonzalez, says it will help her finally achieve a goal of having her own house; she and her 24-year-old daughter plan to split the cost and buy something together.”

“Bonus checks! One year free! How states are trying to fix a broken child care system,” by Jennifer Ludden, NPR, July 13, 2022

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