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Massachusetts Senate acts to transform early education and care

Massachusetts Senate acts to transform early education and care

EARLY ED Act would expand accessible, affordable, and high-quality care across the state

 

BOSTON (3/14/2024)—Today, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed legislation to make early education and care more accessible and affordable for families across Massachusetts.

 

The EARLY ED ActAn Act ensuring affordability, readiness and learning for our youth and driving economic development—takes transformative steps to improve the affordability and sustainability of childcare programs by making the state’s Commonwealth Cares for Children (C3) operational grant program permanent, expanding eligibility for the state’s subsidy program and capping subsidy recipients’ childcare costs at 7 per cent of family income, and boosting compensation for educators by creating a career ladder and providing scholarships and loan forgiveness.


“This is a generational investment in residents that have been saddled by student loan debt, skyrocketing home prices, and the highest childcare costs in the country,” said Senator Susan Moran (D-Falmouth). “All families, regardless of their circumstances, should be able meet their everyday needs in Massachusetts. Affordable childcare keeps parents gainfully employed, creates better educational outcomes for our children, and stimulates our economy. This is a strategic investment that will benefit generations to come.”

 

 

By extending access to high-quality education and care to families who currently lack access because of cost or availability, the bill seeks to set children up for future success and drive the Massachusetts economy forward.

 

The bill would make the state’s C3 grants permanent, which provides monthly payments directly to early education and care providers. The grants, which provide monthly payments to more than 92 per cent of early education and care programs across the Commonwealth, have become a national model thanks to their success at keeping programs’ doors open during the pandemic, reducing tuition costs for families, increasing compensation for early educators, and expanding the number of childcare slots available.

 

The legislation improves affordability by expanding eligibility for childcare subsidies to families making up to 85 per cent of the state median income (SMI), which is $124,000 for a family of four. It eliminates cost-sharing fees for families receiving subsidies who are below the federal poverty line, and caps cost-sharing fees for all other families receiving subsidies at seven percent of their income, putting millions of dollars back into families’ pockets. Finally, the bill paves the way for expanding the subsidy program to families making up to 125 per cent SMI, or $182,000 for a family of four, when future funds become available.

 

The legislation provides much-needed support for educators by directing the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) to establish a career ladder with recommended salaries. This career ladder will help increase salaries in this historically underpaid field. The bill would also make scholarship and loan forgiveness programs for early educators permanent, as well as direct the state to explore more innovative ways to develop this crucial workforce.

 

Notably, the bill would also create an innovative public-private matching grant pilot program, which would incentivize employers to invest in new early education and care slots, with priority given to projects serving families with lower income and those who are located in childcare deserts. In addition, the bill tasks the Administration with completing a study to further analyze ways to incentivize or require employers to partner with the state to expand access to high-quality and affordable early education and care.

 

The bill also includes provisions that would:

 

  • Ensure that early education and care programs serving children with subsidies are reimbursed based on enrollment, rather than attendance, to provide financial stability to programs.

  • Require the cost-sharing fee scale for families participating in the childcare subsidy program to be updated every five years to ensure affordability for families.

  • Establish a pilot program to expand access to shared-service hubs, which would support smaller early education and care programs.

  • Increase the maximum number of children that can be served by fully-staffed large family childcare programs, aligning with states such as New York, California, Illinois, and Maryland.

  • Bar zoning ordinances from prohibiting family childcare programs in certain areas, preventing an unnecessary hurdle to the expansion of childcare slots.



“An equitable and competitive Commonwealth is one in which every child and family has access to affordable quality early education,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “At the same time, we must recognize the incredible work of the providers who are shaping the minds and hearts of our earliest learners. Today I’m proud that the Massachusetts Senate is once again taking action to lower costs for families, open up more opportunities for children, increase pay for our early educators, and make support for providers permanent so they can keep their doors open and thrive for years to come. I extend my thanks to Chair Rodrigues and Chair Lewis for their diligent work, all of my Senate colleagues for their support, and the many, many people who have advocated for early education and care.”

“With the passing of this legislation, the Senate has reaffirmed its commitment to an ambitious and transformative investment in Early Education and Care (EEC). I want to thank my colleagues and the Senate President for her leadership in wisely continuing these investments in quality and accessible early childhood education for all. The onset of the COVID pandemic showed just how important these stabilizing grants were to early childhood programs, who otherwise would have been unable to sustain operations. We will always do whatever we can do assist working families by making permanent investments in early education and childcare initiatives in the Commonwealth,” said Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D-Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.


Having been passed by the Senate, the legislation now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.

 

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