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The 193rd General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

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Massachusetts Senate releases the EARLY ED Act, aimed at transforming early education and care

March 7, 2024

Legislation would expand accessible, affordable, and high-quality care; vote set for next week 

MALDEN, Mass. (3/7/2024)—Today, the Massachusetts Senate announced it would be taking up the EARLY ED Act, legislation to make early education and care more accessible and affordable for families across Massachusetts.

The announcement was made by Senate President Karen E. Spilka during a press conference and tour at an ABCD Head Start childcare facility in Malden, where she was joined by Senate Education Chair Jason M. Lewis, members of the Senate, and champions of early education and care reform.

“This bill is another step in fulfilling the promise of the Senate’s Student Opportunity Plan to provide high-quality educational opportunities to our children from birth through adulthood, as well as our obligation to make Massachusetts affordable and equitable for our residents and competitive for employers,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “This legislation is a tremendous step in our work to fulfill that obligation. By investing in our providers, bringing much-needed financial assistance to parents, and making sure our educators are well-compensated, we have the opportunity to get parents back to work, and open up a lifetime of opportunities and benefits for their children.”

“The Senate made education the centerpiece of the Fiscal Year 2024 budget, and we are continuing that commitment with an ambitious and transformative investment in early education and care. We saw just how real the need was for this investment with the onset of the COVID pandemic, and we will continue to do whatever we can do assist working families and prioritize early education and childcare initiatives in the Commonwealth,” said Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D-Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.

“Expanding access to high-quality, affordable early education and childcare is essential for the healthy development of young children, as well as for the economic well-being of working families and employers in the Commonwealth,” said Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester), Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education. “Massachusetts has consistently been a national leader in education, and now is the time for us to continue this investment by increasing access to early education and childcare for all residents. I want to thank Senate President Karen Spilka for her strong leadership and commitment to supporting early educators and families, and I’m excited to bring this bill to the Senate floor next week.”

The EARLY ED Act—An Act ensuring affordability, readiness and learning for our youth and driving economic development—was advanced by the Senate Ways & Means Committee this morning. It takes transformative steps to improve the affordability of child care support programs—and the families who attend them—by making the state’s Commonwealth Cares for Children (C3) operational grant program permanent, expanding eligibility for the state’s subsidy program, and boosting compensation for educators by creating a career ladder and providing scholarships and loan forgiveness.

By extending access to high-quality education and care to families who currently lack access because of cost or availability, the bill seeks to set children up for future success and drive the Massachusetts economy forward.

The bill would make the state’s C3 grants permanent, which provides monthly payments directly to early education and care providers. The grants, which provide monthly payments to more than 92 per cent of early education and care programs across the Commonwealth, have become a national model thanks to their success at keeping programs’ doors open during the pandemic, reducing tuition costs for families, increasing compensation for early educators, and expanding the number of childcare slots available.

The legislation improves affordability by expanding eligibility for childcare subsidies to families making up to 85 per cent of the state median income (SMI), which is $124,000 for a family of 4. It eliminates cost-sharing fees for families receiving subsidies who are below the federal poverty line, and caps cost-sharing fees for all other families receiving subsidies at 7 percent of their income, putting millions of dollars back into families’ pockets. Finally, the bill paves the way for expanding the subsidy program to families making up to 125 per cent SMI, or $182,000 for a family of 4, when future funds become available.

The legislation provides much-needed support for educators by directing the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) to establish a career ladder with recommended salaries. This career ladder will be used to influence the rates that programs are reimbursed for providing subsidized care, as well as the amount of operational grant funds that programs receive. The bill would also make scholarship and loan forgiveness programs for early educators permanent, as well as direct the state to explore more innovative ways to develop this crucial workforce.

Notably, the bill would also create an innovative matching grant pilot program, which would incentivize employers to invest in new early education and care slots, with priority given to projects serving families with lower income and those who are located in childcare deserts. In addition, the bill tasks the Administration with completing a study to further analyze ways to incentivize or require employers to partner with the state to expand access to high-quality and affordable early education and care.

The bill also includes provisions that would:

  • Ensure that early education and care programs serving children with subsidies are reimbursed based on enrollment, rather than attendance, to provide financial stability to programs.
  • Require the cost-sharing fee scale for families participating in the child care subsidy program to be updated every 5 years to ensure affordability for families.
  • Establish a pilot program to expand access to shared-service hubs, which would support smaller early education and care programs.
  • Increase the maximum number of children that can be served by fully-staffed large family child care programs, aligning with states such as New York, California, Illinois, and Maryland.

The Senate will take up the legislation in a formal session on Thursday March 14.