Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

Today, the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education will hold a hearing for early education and care bills filed in the 2017-2018 session. Strategies for Children (SFC) urges the committee to report favorably on An Act Ensuring High-Quality Early Education H.2874 and S.240, lead sponsors: Representative Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley) and Senator Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett).


The problem:

Massachusetts has a significant and persistent achievement gap that’s evident long before children enter school. Too many children show up for school already behind, and too many of them will never catch up. It’s time to level the playing field for Massachusetts children. The state could and should do more to invest in young children’s early learning.

Experts agree that high-quality preschool has a short- and long-term impact on young children’s educational, social and health outcomes. Preventing problems now, rather than remediating them later, is a cost-effective investment that benefits children and taxpayers alike.

High-quality preschool helps establish a strong foundation for children’s learning in K-12, but currently an estimated 40% of the commonwealth’s 3- and 4-year-olds are not enrolled in any formal preschool program.


The solution:

An Act Ensuring High-Quality Early Education addresses this problem. The legislation builds off of the state’s successful preschool pilot program known as PEG – the Preschool Expansion Grant. This federally funded initiative has annually supported 850 4-year-olds so that they can attend high-quality preschool in Boston, Lawrence, Lowell, Springfield, and Holyoke.

Beyond the reach of PEG, SFC estimates that there are 10,000 3- and 4-year-olds across the state not enrolled in any form of early education program that could enroll if An Act Ensuring High-Quality Early Education becomes law. Many of these children are in the 13 communities that already have state-approved preschool expansion plans ready to go. They’re just waiting for implementation funding. These communities are: Athol, Boston, Brockton, Cape Cod, Fall River, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, New Bedford, North Adams, Pittsfield, Springfield, Somerville, and Worcester.


Investing in the early education workforce:

There is a workforce crisis in early education and care. Low salaries are driving current teachers out of preschool classrooms – and making it close to impossible to attract new ones.

An Act Ensuring High-Quality Early Education helps address this crisis by requiring pay equity for participating community-based preschool teachers relative to their peers teaching in public schools. An investment in high-quality teachers, their training and compensation, will help ensure the effectiveness of high-quality preschool and its impact on children, families, and communities. This focus aligns with major workforce proposals this year by the House, Senate, and Baker Administration.

Massachusetts trails most states in preschool investment:

 According to a 2017 report by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER):

• “Massachusetts ranks 34th out of 44 states in access for 4-year-olds and 12th in access for 3-year-olds out of 29 states that served 3-year-olds.”

• “State funding per child was $3,309, an inflation-adjusted decrease of $594 from 2014-2015, ranking 42nd nationwide.” Massachusetts ranked 30th on this indicator in last year’s yearbook, and annually trails states like New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and North Carolina.

• “Massachusetts met a weighted average 6.6 of NIEER’s 10 current quality standards benchmarks.”

Summing up, W. Steven Barnett, NIEER’s director, says, “Early childhood education is a great investment. We see Massachusetts using federal grant dollars to expand preschool enrollment, but more state resources are needed to provide the high-quality pre-K that can helps children get the best possible start in life.”

An Act Ensuring High-Quality Early Education would help address these inequities. If the bill becomes law, it would help close the achievement gap and ensure that all Massachusetts children have the opportunity to succeed in school and in life. The proposed legislation builds upon the Commonwealth’s strong policy foundation for early education, including the ongoing work of the Department of Early Education and Care and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). The bill capitalizes on the momentum for pre-K, including the state’s $15 million federal Preschool Expansion Grant and state-funded preschool planning grants.


More details about the bill:

Both the House and Senate version of the bills provide access to high-quality preschool programs for children in underperforming school districts through a targeted, phased-in approach. This comprehensive plan is modeled after the New Jersey Abbott preschool program, which has helped to narrow the achievement gap. Key components include:

• A focus on preschool-age children (from 2 years and 9 months to kindergarten-eligible)

• A commitment to the mixed-delivery system of public and private pre-K providers

• A multi-year phase-in of funding, beginning with “ready communities” that have state-approved implementation plans

• Priority for communities with level 5, 4, and 3 school districts as defined in DESE’s accountability framework

• Priority for communities with large percentages of high-needs students

• Adequate funding to ensure program quality and teacher salaries and qualifications comparable to the K-12 system; and

• Program quality requirements aligned with federal Preschool Expansion Grant standards, including student-to-teacher ratios of 10 to 1, with no more than 20 pre-K students; teacher qualifications and compensation; inclusion of children with disabilities; developmentally appropriate instruction; and family engagement.