House plans $110 million investment in early childhood ed and care

The Massachusetts House of Representatives is proposing investments of more than $110 million in early childhood education and care as it prepares to unveil its proposed FY23 budget later this week.

At a press conference at Ellis Early Learning in the South End, House Speaker Ron Mariano, House Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz and several colleagues detailed the proposals, which include $60 million to increase provider salaries, $10 million to help providers cover their own childcare costs and $16.5 million for the state’s Head Start programs, which serve low-income families. The House is also proposing that compensation be linked to enrollment rather than attendance.

Lauren Cook, the CEO of Ellis Early Learning, said the proposed investments could help bring some much-needed stability to a field that’s been battered by two years of the pandemic.

“Right now, we’re really operating in crisis mode every day trying to keep our classrooms open, because we don’t have enough teachers,” Cook said.

During the pandemic, she added, low pay rates and the taxing nature of the job led many to leave the field entirely.

“Many of our workforce are comprised of women of color,” she said. “Many of our employees live in multigenerational homes, and there are people are risk in their own homes.

“This is the front lines of the pandemic,” she added. “You’re wiping noses, you’re wiping bottoms — you really can’t get more intimate a connection. I would argue it’s more intimate than many doctors have with their own patients, on a day-to-day basis, 10 hours a day. And that’s a huge, scary risk for people.”

Last month, a special legislative report on state’s early education and care sector found that more than 1,300 childcare providers — about 17 percent of the state’s total — had closed since March 2020, leading to the loss of nearly 24,000 childcare slots.

That same report suggested new investments in early education and care totaling more than $1.5 billion annually.

At Monday’s press conference, Mariano said that while the House’s proposals involve a fraction of that level of investment, they represent a meaningful start.

“It is a beginning,” Mariano said. “The commission invested a lot of time and had a number of suggestions. And we took the ones that we thought were the easiest to implement and that we could implement the fastest, considering the fact that we’re in a fairly good financial situation this year in the budget.”

Mariano and Michlewitz, the House Ways and Means Chairman, acknowledged that the current House proposals wouldn’t directly affect the high cost of childcare, which averages more than $20,000 annually for infants and more than $15,000 annually for four-year-olds.

“Affordability is obviously an important discussion, and I know that we’re going to continue to have that,” Michlewitz said. “But accessibility is also something that we were hearing [about] from many folks, and taking these first steps is going to go a long way.”

“The fact of the matter is, we have to begin somewhere,” Mariano said. “There is a system in place that is not working, and we saw a couple of things that we could do
immediately that will make the system work much better than it’s working now.”

The full House budget proposal is scheduled to be released on Wednesday.

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