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State House Hearing - Massachusetts Communities are Ready for Preschool

eye on early education
June 22, 2017 by Alyssa Haywoode

Publication Date: 
June 26, 2017

A guest post by Chris Martes, President and CEO of Strategies for Children

Tuesday was a sunny June day, so you may have missed the State House hearing on a range of early education and care bills.

Amy O’Leary and I — along with our colleagues from cities and towns and other organizations — testified in support of “An Act ensuring high quality early education,” H.2874 filed by Representative Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley) and S.240 filed by Senator Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett).

We shared our goals with the Joint Committee on Education, chaired by Representative Peisch and Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Jamaica Plain).

Budgetwise, it’s a tough time to ask for more funding. Massachusetts’ revenue forecast can best be described as partly sunny with a chance of car-denting hail. Look for “modest growth” of 3.9 percent.

Fortunately, our bill is an ideal fit for these economic times. It’s not an ask for a lot of money. It’s a framework for growth. The bill calls on the Department of Early Education and Care and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to develop a grant program to fund high-quality pre-K programs. It’s modeled on our successful, federally-funded Preschool Expansion Grant program.

The grants would go to cities and towns that are ready — the ones that already have a state-approved implementation plans as well as large percentages of high-needs students.

This would be an affordable step forward that helps Massachusetts catch up with states like New Jersey and North Carolina.

Funding would be used to better train and pay teachers — and to invest in family engagement, because we need parents to be active, informed partners in their children’s education.

Who is ready? Boston, Cape Cod, Holyoke, Lawrence, New Bedford, Somerville, and Worcester to name a few. They all have plans and partnerships with community stakeholders.

Worcester, for example, is working with local colleges and universities to provide preschool teachers with more training. If the city also had a state grant, it could pay these teachers more to keep them in preschool classrooms — instead of losing them to higher paying elementary school jobs. That would help address early education’s raging workforce crisis.

As I said at the hearing, “This is the time for the Legislature to take the next step.”

Cities and towns in the commonwealth need state funding to grow their preschool efforts. No one city or school or early education and care program can do this work alone. We have to unite our efforts to provide all our children with the 21st century education that they deserve and that our economy requires.

Here’s more of the spoken and written testimony that was delivered during the hearing:

“In many ways, Massachusetts is a leader within the world of public education, yet we still struggle to provide high-quality preschool, particularly for our neediest children and families.”
– Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera

“The research is clear: study after study has shown the significant positive impacts of early education, including long-term studies of model programs as well as recent evaluations from state-funded pre-k programs in operation today. Low-income children who attended high-quality preschool programs are 40% less likely to need special education services or be kept back a grade, 30% more likely to finish high school and twice as likely to attend college.”
– Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone

“…Boston cannot fully realize its vision about providing a high-quality pre-kindergarten seat for every child without significant and stable investment from the state, which is why we need this legislation.”
– Jason Sachs, Director of Early Childhood Education, the Boston Public Schools

“We know from research that early experiences literally shape the development of young children’s brains, and lay the foundation for their future learning and educational success. Preventing problems now, rather than remediating later, is a cost-effective investment that benefits both children and taxpayers alike. S.240 and H.2874 does just this.”
– Karley Ausiello, Senior Vice President, Community Impact, United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley

“We’ve learned much since the creation of my position three years ago. We learned that families value quality programs, but are faced with limited choices especially until 5:30 in the evening. And we know our families want the best for their children but may not have access to the options available to them. We learned that providing instructional coaching, professional development and curriculum development makes a huge difference and supports teachers, center directors, and children.”
– Lisa Kuh, Director of Early Education, Somerville Public Schools

“We believe these bills will provide critical support for children — especially those from low-income families — and will strengthen the birth-to-13 educational pipeline that includes all children in all settings: preschool, in school, and after school.”
– Patrick Stanton, Creative Research Manager, Massachusetts After-School Partnership

“The bills before you, H.2874 and S.240, drive quality and will enable preschool expansion plans to take root. Worcester has a plan and is ready to go. We can’t afford to wait any longer.”
– Kim Davenport, Managing Director, Birth to 3rd Grade Alignment, Edward Street Child Services

“I’m here today to encourage you to continue this kind of conversation, this kind of work for young children and their families. They all benefit. It makes a difference to every single family that walks through the door of a real quality program.”
– Valerie Gumes, Board member, Strategies for Children, retired Boston Public Schools principal

Please join us. Tell the Legislature that the time to fund preschool is now. A growing number of our cities and towns – and their young children and families – are ready for preschool.