Making Progress on Early Childhood Policy in Massachusetts

It was a cold and snowy winter for Massachusetts this year, but the spring thaw brought new resources for early care and education.

The FY16 budget process got started on March 4 when newly elected Governor Charlie Baker filed his first budget.  The House of Representatives and Senate followed with their recommendations in April and May with a conference committee releasing recommendations in June. Advocates were disappointed when Governor Baker vetoed $5 million from the Department of Early Education and Care’s budget and $17.5 million in funding for full-day kindergarten grants. However, the Legislature overrode these vetoes, thanks in part to grassroots advocacy that we here at Strategies for Children (SFC) helped to mobilize using our constituent email database and online advocacy tool.  Constituents sent legislators thousands of emails, the highest number in the history of our advocacy efforts.

The FY16 state budget resulted in a third consecutive year of increases for early education and care. These include:

  • $12 million to serve children on the Income Eligible waiting list for early education and care subsidies,
  • $5 million for a rate reserve to provide early educators in programs accepting state child care subsidies with increased funding for salaries, benefits, and professional development, and
  • a new $500,000 line item to provide planning grants to communities seeking to expand high-quality preschool for 3-year-olds in alignment with the federal Preschool Expansion Grant.

The 2015-16 legislative session is not yet over.   An Act Ensuring High Quality Pre-Kindergarten Education (H.462, S.267), with lead sponsors Senator Sal DiDomenico and Representative Alice Peisch,  would phase-in funding for high-quality Pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds in the mixed delivery system in high-needs communities. The bill is currently in the Joint Committee on Education with the legislative hearing scheduled for September 16.

Strategies for Children has been active behind the scenes as well over the past year.  When Governor Baker took office in January 2015, SFC’s Amy O’Leary was on his transition team, helping to ensure that early education was part of the larger education policy discussion. The team released a report in February and included early education among its list of proposals for early action.

The current momentum in early education builds off of last year’s federal grant award. In December 2014, Massachusetts was awarded a $15 million federal Preschool Expansion Grant (PEG). This funding will provide high-quality programming for 4-year-olds in five Massachusetts communities - Boston, Holyoke, Springfield, Lawrence and Lowell.  Lessons learned from PEG design, application process and initial implementation have helped to inform state legislative and budget proposals.  This new funding provides an opportunity to rethink local models of pre-k delivery, and to demonstrate successful new methods to state policymakers. SFC was invited to join the advisory committee for the evaluation of the grant.

-Titus DosRemedios
Director of Research and Policy
Strategies for Children, Inc.

(August 18, 2015)