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The Early ChildhoodAgenda’s plan has been released! To learn more, check out the Agenda’s website and read about the Agenda’s 10 priorities for improving the early childhood environment in Massachusetts.

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The Early Childhood Agenda has been released!

On Tuesday, early education advocates gathered at the Massachusetts State House for the release event. Watch a video replay here. And check out #EarlyChildhoodAgenda on Twitter.

“The Early Childhood Agenda imagines, prioritizes, and builds collective action around equitable and impact-driven solutions by providing a space for the early childhood community to work across sectors for better policy development,” a newly released brief explains.

It’s an exciting plan for unified action that can improve the experiences of young children and families in Massachusetts.

The Agenda includes the input of more than 1,000 people who contributed to a conversation that identified 10 priorities. They are:

1 Work with state government to “pass and implement comprehensive early education and care legislation that addresses family affordability and establishes a career pathway and funding mechanism to drive investments in workforce compensation.”

2 Ensure “early childhood professionals across multiple sectors have access to competitive wages and an affordable benefits package (health care, paid leave, retirement, child care)” by drawing on “operational grants, state-funded benefits, an opt-in group health plan, unionization, and premium assistance programs”

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“There was never much doubt that House and Senate Democrats would return Ron Mariano [the House Speaker] and Karen Spilka [the Senate President] to the top posts in the Legislature for the two-year term that started Wednesday, but the occasion did produce glimpses into the policy areas where each veteran legislative leader will attempt to wield their supermajority margins in the coming months.”

“Mariano and Spilka voiced mutual interest Wednesday in addressing the slow-burning crisis in the early education and child care sector, where providers are coping with widespread staffing shortages, workers are languishing on low wages and families are struggling to pay for care, if they can even find available slots.

“ ‘We know how important early education and care is, both to addressing the “she-cession” that worsened during the pandemic and in preparing our children to learn. Simply put, it is past time to update the way we imagine and support this crucial sector,’ Spilka said.

“The Senate unanimously approved a bill in July seeking a years-long expansion of subsidies, increased pay and benefits for workers, and permanent grants to stabilize providers, but the timing of the bill’s passage left the House with little time to fashion a response.

“Mariano’s comments on Wednesday could signal that he wants his chamber to get more involved in the issue this time around, though he stopped short of embracing the expansive proposal backed by the Senate last session.

“ ‘This session, the full attention of the House will be directed at examining ways to further support our vital early education and care workforce,” Mariano said. “This workforce is made up largely of women and often women of color. As we work to build a system to provide affordable access to quality child care for Massachusetts families, I was proud of the work done last session to increase salaries and other key supports for EEC workers, and I’m confident that the Legislature can do more on this critical issue.’ ”

“Speaker Mariano and President Spilka share some top priorities in new legislative session,” by Chris Lisinski and Sam Drysdale, State House News Service, posted on WGBH’s website, January 4, 2023

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“The strength of Massachusetts is its families. And they sorely need our help. Our state has some of the highest child care costs in the country. Our care workers don’t make a livable wage.

“So today, let us pledge to be the first state to solve the child care crisis. Let’s finally pass legislation in line with Common Start to make sure every family pays what they can afford, and that care workers are paid what they deserve. This is something our families, workers, and businesses all agree on.”

“Read Gov. Maura Healey’s inaugural speech,” WBUR Newsroom, January 05, 2023

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poll photo

Photo: Huong Vu for Strategies for Children

The results are in!

A new statewide poll sponsored by the Common Start Coalition has found that “73 percent of the state’s voters” back “the Common Start proposal to create a universal childcare program in Massachusetts.” Only 18 percent of respondents oppose the idea.

“Support is up nearly 10 points from two years ago, when the corresponding margin on this question was 64%-23%,” according to a memo from Beacon Research, the organization that conducted the poll.

The poll was conducted last month and surveyed 817 Massachusetts voters.

Most of these voters acknowledge three facts that are driving “the push to create a universal childcare program:”

• too many families can’t afford the high cost of child care

• child care workers are significantly underpaid, and

• state government should play a role in addressing these challenges

The poll also found that 58 percent of respondents favor “increasing taxpayer funding for childcare programs in Massachusetts,” a jump up from two years ago when 48 percent of respondents supported this idea.

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It was time to say goodbye at this week’s meeting of the Board of the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC). 

Board chair Nonie Lesaux and Massachusetts’ Secretary of Education Jim Peyser are both stepping down.

To acknowledge their contribution Amy O’Leary, Strategies for Childrens’ executive director, spoke at the meeting and later reflected further on the service of Lesaux and Peyser, especially as EEC and its board have navigated the historic challenges of the pandemic. 

Amy appears at the 13:09 timemark in the video posted above. Her full statement is posted here. And here are some excerpts of her comments and additional thoughts: 

“To say that the decisions made by leaders in the Baker-Polito administration and the Massachusetts legislature over the last three years saved lives may sound dramatic. But I believe it is true.

“From setting up emergency childcare in a matter of days, to supporting COVID testing for children, families and staff, to listening to the field when drafting responsive new policies to ensure safety and health, to funding programs to stay open and support parents’ choices about when to send their child back to a program to the creation and continued funding for the C3 grants. Just keeping the day-to-day operations of the Department running was an incredible achievement.”

Amy also praised “the incredible stories of the educators, program directors, family child care providers, school age staff, CEOs and community leaders who have shown up for children and families every single day.”

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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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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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State House

Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

The fiscal year 2023 budget was signed by Governor Baker last week, and thanks to your advocacy, the budget includes historic state investments in early education and care!

Please take a minute to thank your legislators and thank Governor Baker for taking action.

The new budget includes: 

• $250 million in Commonwealth Cares for Children (C3) Stabilization Grants – which ensures that C3 grants continue through December 2022 (visit the Department of Early Education and Care’s website for more C3 info)

• $60 million for a rate increase for early educators

• $25 million for a new Early Education & Care Infrastructure and Policy Reform Reserve to bolster the statewide system of care, assist families in navigating the early education landscape, and help early educators with costs associated with personal childcare

• $15 million for preschool expansion in the Commonwealth Preschool Partnership Initiative

• $15 million for resource and referral agencies

• $3.5 million for early childhood mental health, and

• $175 million for a new High-Quality Early Education & Care Affordability Fund [Outside section 180]

For a full breakdown, visit our budget page

And once again, please thank your legislators and thank Governor Baker for these much needed investments.

In addition to these critical investments, the Legislature had proposed additional early education and care investments in its Economic Development bill. And last week, Strategies for Children joined 70 organizations and 214 individuals in asking legislators to include these investments in the final “conference committee” bill. However, the formal legislative session ended on July 31st, and the bill was left in conference. We will continue to monitor the bill and report any future updates.

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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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