Massachusetts Fair Share

We stand up for a Massachusetts where everyone gets a fair shot, does and pays their fair share, and plays by the same rules.

The debate over early education in budget takes shape

Research increasingly supports the importance of early education, from preparation for kindergarten to its long-term returns on investment for our nation—so why is Massachusetts so far behind when it comes to public early education and preschool?

On Jan. 27, Gov. Charlie Baker released his proposed budget, the first step in finalizing a state budget for next year. Despite an increasing need for reform in early education, it seems that the Baker administration prefers the status quo. Early education is largely level-funded, with the biggest change more of a restructuring than an investment. Baker’s new Quality Improvement line item directs $33.4 million to improving the current system of early care and education, but draws funds from a set of other programs.

The Put MA Kids First coalition, consisting of 52 member organizations including Massachusetts Fair Share, has been working to highlight the growing problems facing the early education field in Massachusetts. One of the chief concerns of this coalition is the stagnant funding for state early education programs, which leads to mounting financial pressure on those programs, especially on the teachers.

The median salary of an early educator still hovers around $25,000 a year, meaning 37% of early educators must rely on some form of public assistance in order to make ends meet[1]. As a result, turnover in the early education workforce is incredibly high – around 30%. We know that the connection between a child and his or her teacher is critical to the child’s learning and development; consequently, this high turnover rate is a huge barrier to the quality offered in public programs.

We often hear arguments about the need to limit spending for the sake of fiscal responsibility, but those arguments do not seem to apply universally. In negotiating with General Electric, the state has committed $145 million in new breaks and other spending. Furthermore, Gov. Baker has pledged to expand a corporate tax subsidy valued at $67 million per year (one highly favored by GE). So apparently, there are funds available for corporate tax subsidies. Why not for our youngest learners?

Not only do our students deserve a high-quality early education, but studies show that early education yields valuable economic benefits. Investing in early education can generate returns of up to $7 per $1 invested[2] and on average, children who receive high-quality, early education complete more years of school[3], graduate at higher rates, and commit less crimes.[4] Investing in young children promises to benefit Massachusetts in a variety of ways.

Senate President Stan Rosenberg criticized Baker’s budget and its “gaping holes” in education spending[5], attributing them to the governor’s refusal to address issues of revenue. Without additional investment, President Rosenberg has stressed that Baker cannot adequately expand or improve early education and care.

President Rosenberg, along with Sen. Sal DiDomenico (Everett), recently formed “Kids First”, a new initiative to create long-term strategies for addressing the most pressing issues affecting children in Massachusetts, which will include policy and budget recommendations around early education.

But before the Senate can address the budget, it first moves to the House for approval. As the budget process begins, it falls to House Speaker DeLeo and the House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Rep. Brian Dempsey (Haverhill), to make the investments in early education lacking in the Baker Budget. Speaker DeLeo, like Gov. Baker, is adamant he will not seek new revenues as part of his budget.

But Speaker DeLeo showed his support for early education on Jan. 27: “We have one shot to get this right. And we will. Access to high-quality early education provides short and long-term benefits that not only impact an individual, but impact our society as a whole: everything from kindergarten readiness, to financial independence, to widespread economic health, to incarceration rates.”

In the past, Speaker DeLeo has promised to expand access to early education, which he has reiterated recently following Boston Mayor Walsh’s call for state leaders to increase funding for early education. The Speaker has also shown increasing concern for the pressure on the workforce and resulting impacts on the quality of public programs. Speaker DeLeo’s support is critical for the future of early education.

This post was written by Leann Beard

 

[1] Whitebook M, Phillips D, and Howes C. Worthy Work, Still Unlivable Wages:The Early Childhood Workforce 25 Years after the National Child Care Staffing Study. Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California, Berkeley, 2014.

[2] Heckman, J. J. (2011). The economics of inequality. The Education Digest, 77(4), 4-11.

[3] Reynolds, A.J., Temple, J.A., Robertson, D.L., Mann, E.A. (2001). “Long-term Effects of an Early Childhood Intervention on Educational Achievement and Juvenile Arrest: A 15-Year Follow-up of Low-Income Children in Public Schools.” JAMA. 2001;285(18):2339-2346. doi:10.1001/jama.285.18.2339.

[4] “HighScope Perry Preschool Study.” HighScope Perry Preschool Study. HighScope Educational Research Foundation, 2005. Web. 16 Feb. 2016.

[5] Norton, Michael. “Rosenberg: Baker’s Education Budget Reveals Some ‘gaping Holes'” 29 Jan. 2016. Web.

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This entry was posted on February 17, 2016 by in early education.
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