A rundown gross motor room.  Photo: Children's Investment Fund
A rundown gross motor room. Photo: Children’s Investment Fund

In 2011, a report from the Children’s Investment Fund (CIF) revealed the substandard conditions of some early childhood and out-of-school time buildings and facilities in Massachusetts.

One photograph in the report shows a big hole in the ceiling with dirty pink insulation hanging out. In another photograph a leaky toilet stands on a badly stained concrete floor.  A third photo shows children playing in an empty parking lot.

We wrote about the report — “Building an Infrastructure for Quality: An Inventory of Early Childhood and Out-of-School time Facilities in Massachusetts” – in a blog entry posted here.

According to Marty Cowden, CIF’s associate program manager, one repeated reaction to the report’s worst findings has been “Oh my goodness, I’d never send my child to a place like that.”

For early education and out-of-school time providers the economic reality can be painful. “The poor condition of the facilities is a resource issue, not the result of providers’ lack of understanding or concern. Providers that serve our highest-need children are squeezed financially – subsidy rates and parent fees don’t cover their operating costs, so they have no cash reserves to renovate or build space that truly supports children’s healthy development and learning,” according to Mav Pardee, CIF’s program manager.

Fortunately, there will be State House action on this issue. Hearings will be held tomorrow on bills that would invest as much as $45 million over five years in bond funding for loans or grants to improve these spaces.

What the Report Found

Researchers examined conditions in 130 licensed sites in Massachusetts, including 73 early education settings and 57 out-of-school-time sites.  They were located in a range of settings from community centers and former schools to religious settings and buildings that are entirely dedicated to serving children. Some programs owned spaces, others leased.  An executive summary is available here.   To download the full report register here.

The relatively good news in the report is that nearly all sites met:

–  80 percent of 76 regulatory standards

– 50 percent of 60 professional standards

– 50 percent of 132 best practice standards.

The bad news is that the report found an array of problems including building code violations, bad indoor air quality, inadequate heating and cooling systems, entrapment hazards in play equipment, and inadequate plays spaces.  A finding of particular concern is that only one program site was fully accessible to children with special needs; and that site had been built a year before the site inventory was conducted. Other buildings had been granted waivers.

The challenge is clear, according to a policy paper on facilities released by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). States “need to simultaneously address two policy goals: building the supply of facilities and making sure these spaces are designed to support programmatic quality.”

Bills in the State House

Working with the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley and the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association, CIF supports three bills with similar language that are pending in the State House.  A fact sheet is available here.  The three bills are:

An Act Financing the Production and Preservation of Housing for Low and Moderate Income Residents that was filed by Representative Kevin G. Honan (D-Brighton) and Senator James B. Eldridge (D-Acton). This is a housing bond bill that would also set up an “Early Education and Out of School Time Capital Fund” to make grants or loans to eligible programs so they could buy, design, build, repair, renovate or rehab a facility. The bill passed in the House on June 5, and it will be heard on Thursday afternoon in a hearing held by the Senate Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets.  CIF’s Mav Pardee, program will testify at the hearing along with Vanessa Calderón-Rosado, CEO of Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción, a community-building agency, and Sheri Adlin from South Shore Stars, which provides early education and youth programs.

At this hearing, Pardee plans to point out that high-quality facilities:

– benefit children

– help create healthy, vibrant neighborhoods

– provide high-quality options for working parents

– and help close the achievement gap

In the House, Representative Jeffrey Sanchez (D-Jamaica Plain) filed an Act Relative to Early Education & Out of School Time Capital Fund. It would allot $45 million to create a capital fund to finance grants and loans. It will be heard by the Joint Committee on Education on Thursday morning.  CIF plans to submit written testimony. Strategies for Children will also be testifying in support of this bill and the housing bond bill.

 In the Senate, an Act Establishing an Early Education and Out-of-School Time Capital Fund, filed by Senator Sal N. DiDomenico (D-Everett), would also create a $45 million “Early Education and Out of School Time Capital Fund” to provide loans or grants. This bill has already had a hearing.

Advocacy Opportunities

Massachusetts residents, please contact the Joint Committee on Education and the Senate Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets to let legislators know that you support bond funding to finance better early education and out-of-school time spaces.