We stand up for a Massachusetts where everyone gets a fair shot, does and pays their fair share, and plays by the same rules.
Every kid should get a fair start, and a good education, no matter their income level — but we know that’s not the case for many children. Part of the way we balance the scales is by providing early education vouchers to families that need it.
On October 8, during a visit to a Head Start program in Chelsea, Governor Deval Patrick announced that he planned to issue 3200 early education vouchers. That’s terrific news for the 3200 parents currently fighting to make ends meet and provide a quality start for their kids. But the waiting list for vouchers is 43,000 families long — and 3,200 makes just a 13 percent dent in the total. I’d like to see that waiting list drop to 0.
Many of our members have asked us how these programs work, so let me share some of the details with you. Most of the people who need vouchers are people who work, but don’t make enough to afford to place their children in pre-school. Most vouchers don’t cover the entire tab, meaning that families are also contributing to the childcare costs (see this handy table for more info: http://www.mass.gov/edu/docs/eec/2013/20130627-eec-income-eligibility-table.pdf)
In addition there is also an “Activity Requirement”, which details that someone applying for a voucher must…
Be Working, seeking employment, or enrolled in an education or training program (not including graduate, law, or medical school) for at least 20 hours per week for part-time care, and at least 30 hours per week for full-time care;
Be Retired (if older than 65 years only); or
Have themselves, or have a child with a diagnosed and documented disability or special need
Besides having stringent requirements, the process for applying to the voucher program is difficult to get through. Because of the waitlist, it can take a very long time to get a voucher. Obviously, this is not some program to get easy money from.
The reason why families make these sacrifices and endure the process is that early education is incredibly effective. A 2001 cost-benefit analysis of the federally-financed Title I Chicago Child-Parent Center (CPC) Program (which is very similar to Head Start) revealed that the economic benefits actually exceed the costs.
At a cost of $6,730 (1998 dollars) for 1.5 years of participation, the preschool program generated a total return to society at large of $47,759 per participant, mostly in the form of “…increased earnings capacity projected from higher educational attainment…” In addition, the general public (taxpayers and crime victims) saw economic benefits of $25,771 per participant, largely due to increased tax revenues associated with higher expected earnings capacity and reduced criminal justice systems expenditures. The ratio of program benefits to costs for the general public was $3.83 for every dollar invested, a far higher figure than the $1.66 per dollar invested ratio for school age services. Clearly society can greatly benefit from Head Start and other similar programs.
On a personal level, I have seen, in person, the benefits of out of school learning. I spent two summers as a special needs senior counselor at a suburban day camp in the Boston area. While none of the kids were pre-school age (they were 5-7 years old), and were at a camp strictly to have fun, these kids were in fact getting a head start before going back to school in the fall, something especially important for any child with special needs. I could see them improving their fine motor skills during arts and crafts, improving their social skills with not only other kids in the special needs bunk, but the kids in the “regular” bunks as well, and learning new things in activities such as nature.
Kids are like sponges, and it’s critical to give the kind of nurturing environment that helps them thrive. If the voucher program is not expanded, many of these kids would miss a vital opportunity.
Blog post by Jay Epstein