Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

The low salaries and high turnover that characterize the field of early education remain barriers to creating a statewide system of high-quality early education and care. Last week the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Revenue held a hearing on An Act Creating an Early Educator Earned Income Tax Credit (H.2992/S.1428), which would establish a 15% refundable tax credit for early educators modeled on the existing Earned Income Tax Credit. According to the Bessie Tartt Wilson Initiative for Children, the measure would cost $4 million in lost revenue to the state. The average salary for an early educator is $25,000 a year.

The bill was introduced by Representative Linda Dorcena Forry (D-Dorchester) and Senator Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett). Senator John F. Keenan (D-Quincy), Representative Jay Kaufman (D-Lexington) and Representative Paul Schmid (D-Wesport) attended the hearing.

Those who testified in favor of the bill  included Mary Reed of Bessie Tartt Wilson, Valora Washington of the CAYL Institute, Jed Swan of Drydock Ventures, Mary Kinsella of the Boys and Girls Club of Dorchester, Rosemary Hernandez of Talk/Read/Succeed in Springfield, Eve Gilmore of Edward Street Child Services, and a panel of early educators.

“The pay scale is way too low for what we want to accomplish,” testified Lissa Freeman, an early educator at the YWCA in Worcester.

Also testifying was Amy O’Leary, director of Early Education for All, a campaign of Strategies for Children, who worked for a decade as a preschool teacher and program director in Boston. Noting that the quality of early education programs is closely tied to the quality of the early educator, O’Leary said increasing the education and training of the early childhood workforce should go hand in hand with increasing compensation.

“Increasing the supply of high-quality early educators is, perhaps, most critical to ensuring all children have access to high-quality early learning experiences,” O’Leary testified.

“We have seen that establishing tax credits has been used to bolster the early education workforce in other states. Louisiana’s ‘School Readiness’ tax credits are tied to the state’s career lattice and quality rating improvement system (QRIS). There, educators who have worked in a center that participates in the state’s QRIS receive a tax credit,” O’Leary told the committee. “We all share the goal of high-quality early education for children and of an early education workforce that is well-trained and fairly compensated.  The overarching issue is the fact that right now we have a system of early education and care in this country and in Massachusetts that is financed largely through high fees for parents and low wages for workers. Ultimately, if we are to realize the positive, cost-effective outcomes for children that research tells us early education provides, then we must invest the public dollars need to deliver these results.”