When it comes to investing in early childhood education and care, we are at a crossroads. On the one hand, a broad consensus across the political, economic and academic spectrum has emerged in support of investment in our youngest learners. At the same time, budget uncertainty and political gridlock impede our forward progress on this issue. We must move in the direction of investment, and doing so will be one of my top priorities as we debate the Commonwealth’s FY 2014 budget in the coming months.
In his State of the Union address last month, President Obama called for universal, high-quality pre-Kindergarten programs for all four year-olds. This move is supported by many in the business community who link early education to our nation’s future economic competitiveness. Ready Nation, a coalition of business leaders, supports early childhood policies and programs to strengthen our economy and workforce, arguing that “the foundation of many skills needed for 21st-century jobs is established in the earliest years.”
Our nation’s military leaders recognize this as well. The group Mission: Readiness, a nonpartisan national security organization of senior retired military leaders, has called for policymakers to ensure that we have a secure future, by “expanding high-quality early childhood education programs.”
The case is clear: the years between birth and age 5 are critical to brain development, and early education and child care programs provide opportunities not just for academic preparedness, but for social and emotional development as well.
These programs benefit us all. A growing body of research shows that children in
high-quality preschool programs are much more likely to graduate from high
school, get jobs, and pay taxes. Just as importantly, they are 50 percent less likely to commit a crime. And economists have quantified high rates of return for public investment in services for children under the age of five.
These child care programs do something else as well: they allow parents to work, to provide for their families, and to contribute to the Commonwealth’s economic development. But the truth is, far too many families can’t afford them. We live in a state with some of the highest child care costs in the nation.
Massachusetts is a national leader in early education and provides subsidies for child care to allow low-income parents to work or receive job training. However, we have not increased funding for this vital program in two years, and we have not increased the amount of the subsidy provided in six years. Consequently, tens of thousands of working families are on waiting lists to access care for their children.
Families in our communities depend on this program. Every month, on average, nearly 800 childcare subsidies are used in early education programs in our district. Many more families qualify and could benefit but are waiting in line.
This is not a tenable situation, and is compounded by the uncertain federal budget picture. We must increase the funding for this program and also increase access to high-quality programs. This means not only investing in child care vouchers, but also across our entire early education system, including our public schools. This will be one of my top priorities as we move forward with budget
discussions on Beacon Hill this spring.
Investment in early education makes sense: as a state, we should put our money where it matters most.