“It’s time for Massachusetts to lead once again,” Jason Williams, Massachusetts Executive Director of Stand for Children, said yesterday at a Pre-K for MA kickoff event at the State House.
Led by Strategies for Children and Stand for Children Massachusetts, Pre-K for MA is a coalition of education, business, and civic leaders who know that early education and care can help close the state’s achievement gap and create more opportunities for disadvantaged children.
Attended by parents, early educators, advocates, and several young children, the kickoff event also featured a number of state legislators including Representative Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley) and Senator Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett).
Peisch and DiDomenico have co-sponsored a bill — “An Act Ensuring High Quality Pre-Kindergarten Education” —that calls on Massachusetts to follow New Jersey’s example by providing “access to high-quality pre-kindergarten programs for 3-and 4-year-olds living in underperforming school districts,” as this fact sheet explains. The bill would set up a grant program; and the grants would be awarded by the Department of Early Education and Care in consultation with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
“Preschool should be a right not a privilege,” DiDomenico said, saying that all of the state’s children should have the early education opportunities that his children have had.
“What we don’t hear that much about… is the persistent gap between low-performing districts and high performing districts,” Peisch said, adding, “of all the steps we can take… preschool is the one that will have the most impact.”
Representative Marjorie Decker (D-Cambridge) praised early childhood education, saying, “We know how important it is… The question is how are we going to get there?” Decker also said that she attended Head Start as a child and grew up to be the first person in her family to graduate from high school. She called for Massachusetts to ensure that its youngest children are “school ready” and not “school dependent.”
“We all agree on the importance of pre-K,” Representative Alan Silvia (D-Fall River) said. Imagine, he added, the 5-year-olds who haven’t gone to preschool and don’t know how to hold crayons properly. They end up in classes with students who are school-ready because they’ve been in preschool since the age of 3 or 4. “I know we can do better than that in Massachusetts.”
Tom Weber, the commissioner of the Department of Early Education and Care, said, “I can’t tell you how important this campaign is.” Noting that Massachusetts has always prioritized public K-12 education, he called for making early education a comparable priority. The state, he said, needs “a system of education that begins at birth.”
“Public schools can’t do this alone,” Chris Martes, the president and CEO of Strategies for Children said. Martes pointed to Fall River’s schools where educators say there is no classroom space for an expansion to serve more 3- and 4-year-olds. “So we have to work together,” he said.
“The work still needs more support,” Jean Franco, superintended of the Lowell Public Schools, said, noting that of the 1,300 children in her city’s kindergarten program, 575 had no preschool experience. That’s why Lowell is working toward greater equity and quality.
Brenda Powers, director of the Nazareth Child Care Center, part of Catholic Charities, talked about how her program is working with the Boston Public Schools, using the city’s K-1 curriculum. The center is also offering more professional development opportunities to its staff.
Two parents and an uncle — Jennifer Lara, Ursula Allston-Hill, and Armando Perez — also spoke, sharing their children’s experiences in early education and care programs, and calling on Massachusetts to ensure that all children have access to these programs.
“It really will benefit everyone in the long run and benefit our economy,” Stephanie Sanchez said of expanding preschool. Sanchez is Stand for Children’s statewide pre-K campaign director.
Sanchez also asked everyone to sign the Pre-K for MA pledge.
In addition, parents, early educators, and other supporters can also share their early education and care stories and support passage of the Pre-K for MA bill via social media. To do so:
• send emails to Allison Rubin at firstname.lastname@example.org
• like Pre-K for MA on Facebook
• follow Pre-K for MA on Twitter @PreK4MA
And please help support children by supporting Pre-K for MA.