Even as Boston officials funnel millions of dollars into expanding early childhood education, there remains a lack of affordable options to meet demand. Some 15,000 children age 5 and younger are left without access to early childhood education and care because there aren't enough available seats, according to a report from Boston Opportunity Agenda being released Wednesday.
Lee Pelton, the president and CEO of the Boston Foundation and chair of the Boston Opportunity Agenda, previewed the report's findings on Boston Public Radio on Tuesday.
He said children ages 3 to 5 have good chances of getting into universal childcare centers, but the chances are not as good for children under the age of 2 because there are fewer seats available for that age group. This is especially a problem in Boston, where it’s estimated more than 75% of children under 5 live in households where both parents are working, according to the report.
Researchers from Boston Opportunity Agenda, the Birth to Eight Collaborative and the City of Boston’s Office of Early Childhood found a 39% gap between the number of early childhood education and care seats available for kids under 5 years old and the number of children that age. The report looked at childcare provided by the city’s Universal Pre-K program and other family childhood centers.
And even if a family is able to snag a childcare seat, the costs can be prohibitive. Childcare costs in Middlesex and Norfolk counties are more than $26,000 per child.
Pelton commended Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s administration for investing $7 million to support recruiting and maintaining early childhood workers. Additionally, Gov. Maura Healey’s new budget sets aside over $500 million in childcare support.
These funds are crucial for tackling the staffing shortages the child care industry faces across the commonwealth by providing grants that support operations. The Boston Opportunity report estimates that Massachusetts lost nearly 5,000 early educators over the pandemic, with one in three centers now unable to operate at full capacity.
But there are some positives from the report.
“The good news,” said Pelton, “is that we’re almost back to pre-pandemic levels with respect to the number of seats that are available in these childcare centers.”
There are a variety of policies recommended in the report to continue this improvement, including increased investment in universal Pre-K, expanding high-quality care, and harnessing the city of Boston’s Office of Early Childhood to collect data that can track improvements in the early education system.