Stars Align for early education workforce in Massachusetts

Dust off your telescopes because the stars are aligning. No, I’m not talking about the solar eclipse.

In Massachusetts, state political leaders were united this year in support of the early education and care workforce. Governor Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg each played a role. In order for state policy change to happen, all three of these leaders, ideally, need to be on the same page, and this year they were.

Massachusetts’ fiscal year 2018 budget represents the fifth straight year of increases for early education and care, nearly approaching pre-recession spending levels. Most notably however, the state took an important step forward to address the ongoing workforce crisis. The budget includes $38.5 million for an Early Education and Care rate increase to support educators’ salaries. According to Governor Baker’s office, this is “the largest rate increase in a decade for all early education and care programs for low-income families.”

The $38.5 million comes from a few sources: a $15 million rate reserve line item passed in the FY18 budget; a reversion of unspent FY17 funds from the state’s Income Eligible child care account; and efficiencies from implementing a new financial management system for subsidies. Visit our colleagues at Mass Budget and Policy Center for further analysis.

In addition to Governor Baker’s support in the budget, House Speaker DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg both led initiatives this year in support of the early education workforce. In February, DeLeo, together with legislators and business leaders, released the report, “The Business Imperative for Early Education.” In May, the Senate released “Kids First: A Blueprint for Investing in our Future,” a comprehensive Birth-8 plan that includes recommendations to improve early educator compensation, credentials and competencies. Both initiatives keep high-quality early education on the political agenda, and emphasize the importance of a highly skilled and fairly compensated early childhood workforce.

While political leaders have aligned, early educators have rallied, advocating for public investment and telling their stories to legislators and the general public.

State House Advocacy Day on April 24 brought early educators across the state, including the team from Greater Lawrence Community Action Council pictured above. “About 200 early education supporters rallied outside the State House Monday, thanking lawmakers for their efforts to boost the salaries of early educators but urging them to do more to help young learners and workers whose wages place them on the edge of poverty,” according to the State House News Service.

The event was organized by MADCA, the Massachusetts Association of Early Education and Care, along with the Put MA Kids First coalition.

What’s it like to be an early educator? Find out in Strategies for Children’s Voices from the Field. This blog series features first-hand accounts from two dozen early childhood professionals across the state, representing a diverse range of cultural and educational backgrounds, classroom settings, and geographic regions. Stories matter - they help humanize the policy, and provide policymakers with a personal connection to the impact of their budget decisions.

The progress we have seen this year is the result of decades of work by many different coalitions and hundreds of people. Let’s not wait for the next solar eclipse to invest in our youngest learners [the year 2024 in North America]. Strategies for Children will work in the months and years ahead to sustain the growing Massachusetts momentum, at both the state and local levels, to ensure increased public investments in young children, families, and educators.

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

(August 28, 2017)

*Photo: Greater Lawrence Community Action Council’s Facebook page