Last week, Senator Sal DiDomenico joined his colleagues in the Massachusetts State Senate to unanimously pass S.2973. An Act to expand access to high-quality, affordable early education and care. This bipartisan legislation will transform early education and childcare in the Commonwealth by making it more accessible and affordable for families, providing high-quality care for young children, strengthening early education providers, improving compensation and professional development for the early education workforce, and addressing the workforce needs of Massachusetts employers. The bill draws from the recommendations made by the Special Legislative Early Education and Care Economic Review Commission, which was created by the legislature in 2020 and issued its final report in March 2022.
“This issue has been a top priority of mine for many years, and I am thrilled to pass this transformative piece of legislation alongside my Senate colleagues,” said Senator DiDomenico, Assistant Majority Leader of the Massachusetts Senate and a member of the Special Legislative Early Education and Care Economic Review Commission. “As a father of two children, I know that affordable and quality early education and care is indispensable for families and their economic security. This bill will increase childcare access and help thousands of families obtain care at lower costs. Just as importantly, these investments will provide support to childcare providers and ensure people working in this field can earn a living wage, acquire higher education, and support their own families. I want to thank Senate President Karen Spilka for making this a priority and Chair Jason Lewis and Chair Michael Rodrigues for all their work to bring this important issue to the Senate floor.”
“Just as the Senate led on transforming the Commonwealth’s K-12 education system through the Student Opportunity Act, today’s bill would similarly transform the early education system,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “Unfortunately, high-quality early education remains out of reach for most Massachusetts families, and our providers struggle to keep their doors open. This bill will address those issues and make our Commonwealth stronger by making early education more affordable, investing in our early educators, and ensuring the sustainability of our providers. I want to thank Senator Lewis and the members of the Special Legislative Early Education and Care Economic Review Commission for their extensive work on this bill, as well as for the work of Chair Rodrigues and the many, many advocates and stakeholders that got us to today.”
Senator DiDomenico has been a champion for early education and care expansion since he first took office 12 years ago. In 2013, DiDomenico played a pivotal role in creating an Early Education and Out of School Time (EEOST) capital fund that provided $45M in loans and grants to early learning centers and out-of-school-time programs serving low-income families. Recently, during the onset of the pandemic, Senator DiDomenico secured $10 Million for COVID-19 Preparedness and Stabilization Grants to provide critical support to Massachusetts afterschool and out-of-school time programs.
Throughout the past two years, DiDomenico served on the Special Legislative Early Education and Care Economic Review Commission and worked with colleagues to create a blueprint for the investments Massachusetts needs to make in the care economy. The Senator worked tirelessly to push this massive early education and childcare bill across the finish line and will continue to fight for even more investments in the years to come.
High-quality early education helps young children to develop stronger communication, social, and cognitive skills. Investments in early education have been shown to yield considerable long-term benefits, such as higher academic achievement and greater lifetime earnings. Many families in Massachusetts, however, lack access to high-quality, affordable early education. This impacts the ability of parents, especially working mothers, to enter or remain in the workforce. The financial strain of childcare on families is a contributing factor to workforce shortages and threatens to hamper the state’s economic recovery.
The Senate bill would improve access to high-quality and affordable care for Massachusetts families in several ways. The bill would:
• Increase subsidy eligibility over time from the current level of 50% of state median income ($65,626 annual household income for a family of four) to 125% of state median income ($164,065 annual household income for a family of four)
• Make it easier for subsidized providers to offer scholarships or discounted tuition for their private pay families
• Require the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) to evaluate and eliminate barriers to subsidy access for families on an annual basis
• Require parent fees for subsidized families to be affordable and updated at least every five years
• Require EEC to assess the extent of the current supply of licensed childcare availability across the state and the unmet needs of families
Even though childcare is expensive for families in Massachusetts, early education and childcare providers are themselves in crisis. Given the low wages and poor benefits that providers can afford to pay their staff, providers face chronic challenges with attracting and retaining early educators, almost all of whom are women and many of whom are women of color. Federal pandemic relief funding has been a lifeline for the early education and care sector, but these funds are one-time.
This Senate legislation will help stabilize providers, improve program quality, and expand capacity in several ways. The bill:
• Makes permanent the operational grants to providers that were first distributed during the pandemic and requires that a provider must be willing to enroll subsidized children in order to qualify for a grant
• Requires EEC to use an actual cost-of-quality-care methodology for setting subsidy reimbursement rates and calculating operational grants
• Requires EEC to reimburse subsidized providers based on quarterly enrollment rather than daily attendance of children
• Takes steps to strengthen the recruitment and pipeline of early educators
Early educators with bachelor’s degrees earn far less than their counterparts who teach in public elementary schools, and one in six early educators lives in poverty.
To improve compensation, benefits, and professional development opportunities for the early educator workforce, this legislation:
• Requires EEC to develop a career ladder that links educational attainment and work experience to compensation and benefits and recommends that compensation levels be commensurate with public school teachers who are similarly credentialed
• Establishes early educator scholarship and loan forgiveness programs to provide greater access to higher education and professional development opportunities
• Enables subsidized providers to offer free or discounted seats for the children of their own staff
Other provisions would further improve and strengthen early education and childcare in Massachusetts. The bill:
• Creates a commission to study and recommend to the legislature ways that employers could provide more support to their workers to help meet their early education and childcare needs
• Requires EEC to report to the legislature on ways to expand successful local partnerships, such as the Commonwealth Preschool Partnership Initiative (CPPI)
• Requires EEC and the Children’s Investment Fund to report to the legislature on ways to improve and expand the impact of the Early Education and Out of School Time (EEOST) Capital Fund for making improvements to early education facilities
• Requires EEC to create a plan to pilot and scale shared service models that can improve the efficient delivery of high-quality care
• Creates a data advisory commission to work with EEC on expanded data collection and reporting, and the improved use of data to inform the cost and quality of care
Having passed the Senate, An Act to expand access to high-quality, affordable early education and care now moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration.