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Speaker Robert DeLeo: Salary boosts could lift early ed system 'in crisis'

MASSLIVE - The State House News Service on February 8, 2017, Colin A. Young, State House News Service

Publication Date: 
February 19, 2017

State House News Service By State House News Service
on February 08, 2017 at 5:44 PM, updated February 08, 2017 at 5:53 PM

By Colin A. Young
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, FEB. 8, 2017.....The annual House budget taking shape now will include increased funding for the early educator salary and benefit rate reserve, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo plans to file a bill to expand professional development for early educators to bolster a system he described as "in crisis."

DeLeo's announcement came as he released findings and recommendations of a task force he created last March to leverage the insights of the business community to improve the state's early education system.

"In the near term, quality EEC (early education and care) can dramatically improve children's lives, preparing them for fulfilling futures while also bettering the lives of families by allowing parents to go to work knowing that their children are well cared for," DeLeo said. "And EEC can bolster our economy in myriad of ways."

The Early Education and Care Business Advisory Group report makes the case that high-quality early education and care benefits businesses by increasing the talent pool available to meet employer needs.

Workforce development "depends on building a talent pipeline by focusing on improving access and opportunity for all our children in Massachusetts," Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce President James Rooney said. "It means ensuring our future workforce has the skills necessary to sustain our state's knowledge-based technology and innovation driven economy. It means making sure that our children right here in Massachusetts are ready for the jobs of the future."

Jesse Mermell, president of the Alliance for Business Leadership, said, "Our children must have access to high-quality early education with educators who have the training they need, and the tools and supports they deserve, to lay the foundation for a successful and competitive workforce."

But the benefits of earyl education are only realized, the report concluded, if programs are of high quality, and the educators in the classrooms are the most significant determinant of program quality. The early education and care workforce, DeLeo said, is "in crisis" and has reached a "tipping point" with about 30 percent turnover and an average salary that hovers just above the federal poverty guideline for a family of four.

The state estimates that there are 90,000 educators working in the roughly 10,000 licensed child care centers, with median annual salaries between $22,501 and $27,500 depending on the type of program. The median wage for child care workers has dropped 2 percent since 2010 and 39 percent of child care workers are enrolled in at least one public support program based on income, according to the report.

"Because the early education and care workforce is predominantly female, poor compensation perpetuates income inequality and denies the opportunity to achieve economic self-sufficiency for workers and their families," the report states.

DeLeo's planned actions -- boosting funding for the educator rate reserve and introducing legislation to professionalize the EEC workforce -- won plaudits Wednesday from an early education provider.

"This rate increase will improve workforce retention, attract new talent to the industry, allow for competitive salaries, comprehensive screening of children for developmental delays, effective curriculum, and a dynamic and innovative sector," Wayne Ysaguirre, CEO of Nurtury in Jamaica Plain, said. "Synchronizing this funding and workforce development system building will result in the outcomes that children, parents, employers and the commonwealth deserves - an exceptional early education and care environment."

DeLeo said he has not decided on a dollar figure for the rate reserve increase -- the current budget funds the reserve at $12.5 million -- and said he expects to file a bill dealing with professional development within two months.

The speaker also noted that the EEC rate reserve funding increase is the first budget provision he has publicly discussed, which -- along with the more than a dozen House members who attended Wednesday's announcement -- DeLeo said was an indication of how the House prioritizes EEC issues this session.

DeLeo's focus on early education could also be a rallying point for Democrats ahead of the 2018 gubernatorial election.

In her unsuccessful 2014 run for governor, former Attorney General Martha Coakley made universal pre-kindergarten a central theme of her campaign, but it fell off the Beacon Hill to-do list in 2015 and 2016 despite the speaker's interest in the subject.

Democrat Jay Gonzalez, a former state budget chief who late last month announced he would run for governor in 2018, served on DeLeo's business advisory group and said Wednesday early education is "an early and big part of my platform."

"I think early education is the thing we can do to have the biggest return on investment for kids and for their future," Gonzalez said. "It's an area where we need leadership, where we need to be ambitious in building the system we need."

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