Massachusetts policymakers invested big in child care and early education in this year’s state budget, and advocates are now calling for them to follow up by passing a reform package that aims to both make care more affordable and help keep the industry financially viable.
Lawmakers, parents, early educators and other supporters gathered in a classroom at the East Boston Social Center Monday to tout legislation dubbed the “Common Start” bill.
Backed by a majority of state lawmakers and a statewide coalition of more than 170 groups, the bill would expand financial assistance for families, establish new funding for child care providers and deliver better pay and benefits for early educators.
Rep. Adrian Madaro, one of the bill's lead sponsors, said lawmakers made a "major down payment" on the visions of the Common Start Coalition by including about $1.5 billion for early education and care in this year's budget, more than double the amount of funding from five years ago.
"This has certainly helped stabilize our child care system, especially coming out of the pandemic when it was really in rocky shape, but there's still a lot more work to do," he said. "And the reality is the high cost of child care is pushing young families out of the state, and it's become a major threat to Massachusetts' economic competitiveness."
Madaro, an East Boston Democrat, said Monday's discussion was the first in a series of regional events highlighting the bill, with more planned in the new year.
The push comes as a February deadline approaches for legislative committees to report out the bills they have been vetting for months. Committees can advance bills to full Legislature for a possible vote, kill them or grant themselves more time to make a decision.
Beacon Hill power players have signaled an interest in tackling child care costs this session — Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ron Mariano each named early education and care as one of their priorities for the two-year term, and Gov. Maura Healey’s inaugural address called for Massachusetts to “be the first state to solve the child care crisis.”
So far, though, leaders haven’t disclosed a timeline for taking up any child care legislation, outside of the grants and other funding folded into the budget.
Healey administration officials last week announced plans for what they called "transformative changes" to the system the state uses to reimburse child care providers that serve families receiving financial assistance, including a 5.5% cost of living adjustment for providers to help offset increased operating costs. The state Board of Early Education and Care is slated to vote in January on the proposal, which uses $65 million from this year's budget.
Kristin McSwain, who leads Boston’s Office of Early Childhood, urged lawmakers to back up the funding they’ve provided so far by writing policy like the Common Start bill into law.
“Fast-forward 10 years from now, someone else might be in your shoes who maybe doesn't think that early childhood is as important as you all do,” she said.
Madaro said passing the bill would also change the framework around how money would be distributed, with the lowest-income families able to access child care for free. He said more than 20,000 children in Massachusetts are currently on a waiting list for child care subsidies, while early educators are leaving their jobs because of low-pay and providers are having trouble keeping their doors open.
Madaro said bill supporters "won't stop until we make some progress on this." Another backer, Sen. Sal DiDomenico, said he believes this session is the one "where we're going to get this across the finish line."
"We're on the cusp of something very big — structural, transformational change that will have lifelong consequences for these kids," DiDomenico, an Everett Democrat, said. "Teachers in kindergarten know who had early education and care experience and those that didn't. We're giving some unfair advantages over others because of zip codes and because of people that are just not knowing what program exists and not having enough teachers to fill classrooms."