On Tuesday at the State House, the Massachusetts Senate released “Kids First: A Blueprint for Investing in our Future.” It’s an inspiring $1 billion plan to “make the health, welfare, and education of our youngest residents the Commonwealth’s highest priority.”
“We want to know what public policies and public investments work to help, from prenatal all the way through post-secondary education,” Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst) said Tuesday on Boston Public Radio. “We’re trying to shift the paradigm and stop spending money on fixing problems and start spending money on investing where you need to invest in order to prevent the problems.”
Rosenberg launched this effort last year.
“Broadly, the report focuses on improving access to early education for low-income children, improving the quality of early education, helping students who are learning English or have disabilities become ready for school, and offering related services such as food assistance and health care.”
The report sums up this focus as: access, quality, readiness, and integration.
The report also looks at low-income children, noting:
“For children, early childhood is a particularly dangerous time to experience poverty. We now know from years of research that the human brain develops at its most rapid pace from the prenatal period to the toddler years, with the brain’s circuitry most sensitive to outside influences.”
Advocates and legislators who attended the Kids First State House event, shared their ideas about what Massachusetts needs.
“Chris Martes, president and CEO of the advocacy group Strategies for Children, said better access to early childhood education will help kids once they reach kindergarten. ‘Many children in our cities and communities who are not in any program as 3 or 4-year-olds come to kindergarten not ready to learn,’ Martes said,” MassLive says, adding:
“Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, D-Boston, said the current early education waiting list is 15,000 students age birth to 5. There are 24,000 children birth through school age waiting for early education and out-of-school care combined. Chang-Diaz called it ‘madness’ for the state not to address that, given the impact of early childhood education on successful outcomes later in life. Eliminating the waiting list would cost around $155 million.”
Senator Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett), who led the Kids First effort, spoke on behalf of early educators who are struggling them to support themselves on notoriously low salaries.
“DiDomenico said that today, 39 percent of early educators are on public assistance. “That is a shame,” DiDomenico said. “They’re educating our kids. They can’t support their own families.”
To do this work, the report calls for renewed single-mindedness:
“Massachusetts needs to prioritize young children in a meaningful, coordinated way. As a state we have sprinkled funding across many programs, but going forward state leaders must make significant, sustained investments in children and their families in a manner designed for achieving the biggest impact and outcomes.”
Among the report’s recommendations:
– expand the state’s public education system so that it starts when children are 2 years and 9 months old – instead of starting in kindergarten
– eliminate the wait list for income-eligible early education spots
– create a robust continuum of care that covers children from age zero to five
– develop a funding structure that incentivizes quality in early education
– raise the rates paid to early educators
– intensify professional development for early educators and encourage more data-driven instruction, and
– provide children with ample access to high-quality summer programs as well as before-school and after-school programs
The time to act is now. As Rosenberg explained in a speech reprinted by CommonWealth magazine, Massachusetts faces tough challenges that demand creative solutions. He says in part:
“Too many of our children are never even given a real shot because they lack the opportunity in early childhood that their wealthier counterparts enjoy. You may have heard me say it before but I will say it again: If a child is reading at grade level when he or she reaches the 4th grade, then his or her chances for long-term educational success skyrocket. And what chance does a child have to reach the threshold if he or she has missed early childhood education?”
And as the Kids First repot says:
“Building strong and resilient children in the Commonwealth requires a commitment to our children, and their families – because they are the building blocks of the Commonwealth itself.”