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The 193rd General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

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Massachusetts Senate acts to transform early education and care

March 14, 2024

EARLY ED Act would expand accessible, affordable, and high-quality care across the state

BOSTON (3/14/2024)—Today, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed legislation to make early education and care more accessible and affordable for families across Massachusetts.

The EARLY ED Act—An Act ensuring affordability, readiness and learning for our youth and driving economic development—takes transformative steps to improve the affordability and sustainability of childcare programs by making the state’s Commonwealth Cares for Children (C3) operational grant program permanent, expanding eligibility for the state’s subsidy program and capping subsidy recipients’ childcare costs at 7 per cent of family income, and boosting compensation for educators by creating a career ladder and providing scholarships and loan forgiveness.

“An equitable and competitive Commonwealth is one in which every child and family has access to affordable quality early education,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “At the same time, we must recognize the incredible work of the providers who are shaping the minds and hearts of our earliest learners. Today I’m proud that the Massachusetts Senate is once again taking action to lower costs for families, open up more opportunities for children, increase pay for our early educators, and make support for providers permanent so they can keep their doors open and thrive for years to come. I extend my thanks to Chair Rodrigues and Chair Lewis for their diligent work, all of my Senate colleagues for their support, and the many, many people who have advocated for early education and care.”

“With the passing of this legislation, the Senate has reaffirmed its commitment to an ambitious and transformative investment in Early Education and Care (EEC). I want to thank my colleagues and the Senate President for her leadership in wisely continuing these investments in quality and accessible early childhood education for all. The onset of the COVID pandemic showed just how important these stabilizing grants were to early childhood programs, who otherwise would have been unable to sustain operations. We will always do whatever we can do assist working families by making permanent investments in early education and childcare initiatives in the Commonwealth,” said Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D-Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.

“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, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education. “With the passage today of the EARLY ED Act, Massachusetts is demonstrating national leadership in addressing the broken early education and childcare system in our country. I'm very grateful to Senate President Karen Spilka for her passionate leadership on this issue; the Common Start coalition for their years-long advocacy to build grassroots momentum; and all the early education providers, educators, parents, and advocates who have shared their struggles, ideas, and expertise throughout the process of developing this transformative legislation.”

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 four. 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 seven 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 four, 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 help increase salaries in this historically underpaid field. 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 public-private 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 childcare subsidy program to be updated every five 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 childcare programs, aligning with states such as New York, California, Illinois, and Maryland.
  • Bar zoning ordinances from prohibiting family childcare programs in certain areas, preventing an unnecessary hurdle to the expansion of childcare slots.

The legislation was praised by members of the Senate who have championed early education and care reform, and advocates from around the state.

“From my first day in the Senate I have been pushing for expanded access to early education and increasing staff salaries to ensure educators can earn a good living,” said Senator Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett). “This critical legislation will drastically expand access to affordable, high-quality, early education and childcare and deliver significantly better pay and benefits for early educators. I am proud to support this bill which helps move our state one step closer to guaranteeing every child will receive world-class education from childhood through adulthood.  We must get this bill over the finish line and keep our state a livable and welcoming home for families of all incomes. I want to thank all of the advocates, Senate President Karen Spilka, Senator Jason Lewis, Senator Susan Moran, Senator Robyn Kennedy, and all my colleagues for their tireless efforts to prioritize this vital proposal.”

“Today, we delivered on our promise to strengthen our early education and care system by improving access and affordability for families; stabilizing providers, improving program quality, and expanding capacity; and most importantly supporting our educators to ensure that they are paid what they have long deserved,” said Senator Robyn Kennedy (D-Worcester). Every child should have access to early education and every caregiver should have access to affordable childcare. Today, we are one step closer to achieving that goal. Thank you to the leadership of Senate President Karen Spilka, Education Chair Jason Lewis, and my colleagues for lifting up our educators and supporting our littlest learners.”

“This is a generational investment in residents that have been saddled by student loan debt, skyrocketing home prices, and the highest childcare costs in the country,” said Senator Susan Moran (D-Falmouth). “All families, regardless of their circumstances, should be able meet their everyday needs in Massachusetts. Affordable childcare keeps parents gainfully employed, creates better educational outcomes for our children, and stimulates our economy. This is a strategic investment that will benefit generations to come.”

“On this incredible day, I am reflecting on decades of advocacy, multi-year campaigns spanning several legislative sessions, policy development and progress based on brain development and economic research, a global pandemic, the incredible response from thousands of early educators across Massachusetts, and how we have worked together to stabilize, heal and transform as a community,” said Amy O’Leary, Executive Director of Strategies for Children. “Hearing the real life, day-to-day challenges has helped inform our advocacy and must continue to drive policy decisions and match up resources with needs.  We are grateful to Senate President Karen Spilka, Education Committee Co-Chair Senator Jason Lewis, Senator Susan Moran, Senator Sal DiDomenico, Senator Robyn Kennedy and all the members of the Massachusetts Senate for your action today on the EARLY ED Act. We know that fulfilling our vision will require a sustained effort and careful, thoughtful consideration. We look forward to working with the Legislature and the Healey-Driscoll Administration to pass comprehensive legislation this session and set a clear path for children and families in the Commonwealth.”

 

“The comprehensive EARLY ED Act bill recognizes the importance of considering all aspects of high-quality early education and care when crafting legislation. As a nonprofit early education provider in Boston, we commend the Senate for bringing this bill to the floor and for the legislature’s critical support,” said Lauren Broadhurst Cook, CEO of Ellis Early Learning.

“The EARLY ED Act establishes a comprehensive framework needed to build affordable care options for families; significantly better pay and benefits for early educators; a stable source of funding for providers; and high-quality programs and services for children. MAAEYC is thrilled to be able to celebrate the Massachusetts Senate's clear commitment to early childhood education today, and every day. We look forward to continuing to advocate on behalf of all young children across the Commonwealth alongside our colleagues and friends,” said Patty Sinclair, President of the Massachusetts Association for the Education of Young Children.

“We extend our deep gratitude to our Legislature and the Department of Early Education and Care for recognizing the needs of our children and families; their commitment has helped us increase annual staff wages by more than $10,000 per person over the past 7 years,” said Justin Pasquariello, Executive Director of East Boston Social Centers. “We thank them also for recognizing much more needs to be done; we started from a very low base and many of our teaching staff remain eligible for public benefits and struggle to meet their family's basic needs. We thank them for taking this natural next step, building on the legislature's commitment to our field, and working toward the day when we can pay wages to enable all early educators and school age professionals, who take such good care of our children, to build careers in this field and support their families.”

“Parents and caregivers across Massachusetts desperately need a permanent commitment to affordable and accessible high-quality early education and childcare, and that's exactly what the Senate’s bill aims to deliver. This comprehensive legislation offers an important step towards fulfilling our vision of affordable childcare options for families; significantly better pay and benefits for early educators; a permanent, stable source of funding for providers; high-quality programs and services for children; and substantial relief for businesses and our entire economy. Massachusetts has made a major down payment on this vision over the past few years, and the Senate’s bill is the next step on the path to fulfilling it,” said Deborah Fastino, Executive Director of the Coalition for Social Justice and Director of the Common Start Coalition.

Having been passed by the Senate, the legislation now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.

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