We stand up for a Massachusetts where everyone gets a fair shot, does and pays their fair share, and plays by the same rules.
On July 11, Gov. Deval Patrick signed our new state budget, which will spend $15 million to take 1,800 kids off the early education waitlist. But we have reason to believe this is just the start.
It’s just one example of how Americans are waking up to the idea that we can do more to make sure every child gets a strong start. In fact we’ve been seeing progress in just the last few weeks.
California, New York, and West Virginia recently expanded programs in those states. In the U.S. Senate, the “Helping Working Families Afford Childcare Act” was introduced last week aims to expand tax credits for childcare expenses. Massachusetts Rep. Katherine Clark’s first bill introduced was the “Infant and Toddler Care Improvement Act,” which aims to improve the quality of childcare for millions of children 3 or younger.
The researchers continue to support our call for greater preschool access. A new study from the state of Washington has pioneered a new method for better measuring the gains children derive from early education, and internationally, more countries are recognizing the importance of investing in young kids.
States across the country have devoted resources to expanding access to early education this year. In addition to the progress here in the Bay State, California just announced they will increasing funding in order to take 43,000 children there off preschool wait lists, with many other states and municipalities also following suit. The steps taken by Massachusetts and California to reduce the sizes of early education waitlists and improve the quality of childcare are important not only to the families they benefit, but also in terms of establishing early education as fixtures of the budget, year-by-year.
In the federal government, progress is slower, but we are gaining momentum. The federal universal preschool bill, “Strong Start for America’s Children” has 33 co-sponsors in the Senate and 136 in the House. Rep. Katherine Clark’s new bill would devote much-needed spending to childcare programs for children younger than four, a crucial stage of development that often goes unnoticed even in the national early education discussion. The newer “Helping Working Families Afford Childcare Act” would expand tax credits for families paying for early education—it would increase the range of availability of these credits across a larger range of incomes, and would increase the possible dollar amounts of the credits.
It’s good that we’re making progress, but we have a lot of catching up to do and need to keep moving forward. Funding for early education remains low relative to pre-recession levels of funding—in 2013, average state spending per child enrolled in pre-k programs was one thousand dollars less than in 2003, and five hundred less than in 2008. Nationwide early education enrollment dropped in the 2012-13 school year, the first time that had happened since enrollment began to be measured. Since 2011, early education enrollment for 4-year-olds has stagnated at 28% of eligible kids, and only 4% of eligible three-year-olds have been enrolled since 2008.
The increases in funding this year will go a long way towards increasing enrollment and education quality in the states that enacted them. We’re hoping these steps will carry momentum, and further action will give even more kids the access they need.
It’s going to take a lot to get Congress to get moving, which is why we need to continue to make progress at the state and local levels. But investing in early education it would not only help many families trying to give the best to their children, but also reaffirm a commitment to fairness, equality, and opportunity for all Americans.
And, frankly, we need to catch up to the rest of the world. The U.S. ranks dead last in the G20 in terms of the share of preschool students in public or publicly supported programs, while even the developing world is starting to invest in this area.
Most recently, Myanmar announced that it would shift 18% of its total welfare budget to early education and childcare, while its education ministry would also ramp up early education investment significantly. Meanwhile, a study performed in Jamaica reaffirmed the importance of early education for developing countries—the returns on early education aren’t just limited to wealthy, industrialized nations, and should rank among the top priorities for any country.
Over the next few months, 1,800 families here in Massachusetts will get a call that their child can attend preschool. If we keep building support, we can up that number to all 60,000 preschool aged kids waiting on the sidelines.