Boston City Councilors endorsed the statewide Common Start legislation at Wednesday’s meeting, adopting a resolution in support of the bill.
The proposed bill would provide access to high-quality and affordable early education and child care to all families in the Commonwealth through the use of public funding.
“Not only are early education and child care opportunities essential for working parents, but they lay the foundation for our children’s development and lifelong learning,” Councilor Annissa Essaibi George said during the meeting. “Most of our child care workers are women of color and most make minimum wage at provider organizations that operate on shoestring budgets.”
Andrew Farnitano, communications consultant for the Common Sense Coalition, said the bill, which would roll out over five years, could help address three key issues in the state’s early education: families being unable to afford child care, providers closing when they cannot afford workers and educators who are underpaid and end up leaving the profession.
Funding from the bill would provide subsidies for parents so they do not pay more than 7% of their annual income on child care costs, which would help low-income families facing a lengthy waitlist for state assistance and middle-income families who are asked to pay “market rate” prices for child care because they aren’t eligible for state assistance, Farnitano said.
“We don’t expect families to pay for public school,” Farnitano said. “We don’t expect them to bear that cost alone, for children who are 5 to 18. But we don’t believe we should expect families to pay the full cost of their early education for kids 0 to 5.”
Families without state assistance have to pay, on average, $20,000 for child care in Massachusetts or around $30,000 in Boston, said Lauren Kennedy, co-founder of Neighborhood Villages — an advocacy group focusing on reforming child care policy in the state.
“It’s more than in-state tuition here in Massachusetts … and you didn’t have 18 years to save for it,” Kennedy said. “It hits you right at the time when you’re a young parent probably just getting your feet steady underneath you.”
Early education is important for children to ensure their success in the future, Farnitano said.
“There’s so many benefits for kids to be in a structured learning environment where they can have that guidance,” he said. “Teaching critical learning skills, critical mental development skills, teaching kids how to interact with their peers in healthy ways.”
Kennedy said children who attend preschool are more likely to read at their grade level in elementary school and graduate from high school.
“This is really a public good, it benefits all of us and it’s just the same as K12 education,” she said. “It’s during these years where you can make the biggest impact in a child’s development, education opportunity, employment opportunities that we put nearly no public dollars at all.”
For the 2021 fiscal year, Massachusetts budgeted $836 million for Early Education and Care and at least $442 million to provide K-12 schools with additional support amid the pandemic.
Many early educators are paid minimum wage because of severe underfunding and the industry’s reliance on financial support from parents, Kennedy added. The Common Start legislation would help pay educators “a wage that better reflects their value as teachers,” she said.
“That’s atrocious, these are teachers,” Kennedy said. “They’re teaching kids at some of the most important years in their brain development, and we pay them minimum wage.”
The bill would also help grant child care providers more funding to raise salaries for staff, said Kevin Murray, executive director of Massachusetts Advocates for Children.
“There’s a whole group of people, mostly women, in those jobs,” Murray said. “They’re doing it because they love it, and they see it as important work, but they’re getting paid very poorly for it.”
The pandemic has “dramatized the need” for legislative reform in early education, especially with school closures and burdens faced by child care providers, Murray added.
“I expect this bill wouldn’t have happened without the pandemic,” he said, “because the pandemic made it so much clearer that this kind of legislation is necessary.”
These funding problems existed before the onset of COVID-19, but the pandemic has “brought all those problems to the surface,” Farnitano said.
“For parents, this is really an economic issue,” Farnitano said. “We’ve seen this, especially during the pandemic, that parents rely on child care in order to work.”
Kennedy said child care issues are not only the concern of families, but of anyone who supports economic, educational, gender and racial equity.
“This matters to anybody who wants to be a female partner in a law firm, who wants to be elected into public office, who wants to kill it in their career,” Kennedy said. “You have got to have equitable access to affordable, high-quality child care.”