As the school year is coming to a close, access to affordable early education and child care is still on the mind of many parents. More than 23,000 children from across Massachusetts are being left behind, sitting on waitlists for enrollment in quality early education and out-of-school time care programs during this most critical stage of their development.
Within my home state of Massachusetts, there are more than 8,800 community-based early education and care programs, employing over 40,000 people. However, there has been a lack of emphasis on the importance of these essential programs statewide. Put MA Kids First is a coalition, formed by over two dozen organizations, that promotes quality early education and out-of-school time care. Our goal: to put our youngest children on the right track and give them a strong educational foundation by providing them with quality early education and care.
Wheelock College, as one of the founding coalition members, shares the belief that we need to implement a long-term plan to invest in our children. Since 2001, state funding for community-based early education and care and out-of-school time programs has not kept pace with inflation, resulting in a 50-percent decrease in the state's commitment to its youngest scholars. Wheelock College has developed robust early childhood education bachelor's- and master's-level degrees that prepare graduates to meet the social, emotional, cognitive, and biological development needs of young children. But the lack funding for the early education programs themselves makes it difficult for educators to pay their bills, as the median salary ranges from just $22,501 to $25,000 annually, below a living wage in the city of Boston. Preparing children for a lifetime of learning requires consistent, quality educators, yet this spending shortage has resulted in a workforce that is not economically viable.
Early educators are enriching and shaping the lives of tomorrow's workforce, yet they are not able to persist in their chosen profession due to low wages. While community-based programs invest significant dollars to help teachers earn graduate degrees or achieve further training, many decide to take higher-paying jobs, thus leaving the programs without qualified educators. In order to support the growth and quality of programs for our youth, we need to invest in stabilizing and strengthening the workforce that engages with our young children.
Put MA Kids First collectively devised recommendations for fiscal year 2016. I applaud the House of Representatives for beginning to address the urgent needs of the Commonwealth's early education and out-of-school care system in their version of the budget. The budget passed with new investments for early education and out of school included. However, with the Senate budget falling short on commitment to quality early education and out-of-school-time programs, the House-Senate conference committee now faces decisions before agreeing on a final version of the spending plan. An increase of $5.3 million salary rate reserve included in the Senate budget, and the adoption of the $4 million earmarked for quality improvements from the final House budget, would help support high-quality early education and care. I encourage those in Massachusetts to contact the conference committee members and urge them to Put MA Kids First!
The decisions made about investments in these difficult times say the most about the collective values as well as the future economic and social health of our country. My hope is that community partners and advocates for our youth will join together to call for a renewed commitment to the youngest children. Massachusetts needs to take a significant step toward ensuring access to high-quality, community-based early education for our youngest citizens with state funding. Now is the time to boost the support of programs and initiatives that will improve the quality of early education and care in Massachusetts and in every state.