House budget cuts early education, support for cultural programs
Support for early education programs in Massachusetts would be slashed by nearly $16 million under the House Ways and Means Committee’s fiscal 2014 spending plan, which would also cut state support for cultural programs by $1.5 million. While the authors of the House bill cheered its proposed investments in local aid and transportation programs Wednesday, activists hours after the budget was released tried to draw attention to spending cuts in the plan. According to Strategies for Children, the House budget proposal would cut funding for early education and care programs from about $488 million to about $472 million. In a statement, Carolyn Lyons, president and CEO of Strategies for Children, said research shows that children enrolled in high quality early education and care programs are 40 percent less likely to be retained a grade or require special education and 30 percent more likely to graduate high school. Lyons called early education investments “critical,” asserting achievement gaps in Massachusetts will not be closed until early education investments are made. Gov. Deval Patrick in January called for a major investment in early education to move tens of thousands of three- and four-year-olds off waiting lists and into pre-school. House budget chief Brian Dempsey said Wednesday that he and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, in the wake of recent state audit findings, were "very concerned" about the level of oversight at the Department of Early Education and Care, and needed guarantees before committing more money to the agency. The House budget proposal creates an early education and care compliance office with $200,000 to improve oversight of licensed care facilities, and asks the auditor to review management of the waitlist. Massachusetts Cultural Council officials on Wednesday also looked forward to crafting amendments with the hopes of reversing a proposed $1.5 million or 15 percent cut to its budget under the House spending plan. According to the council, the cut would reduce grants that pay for thousands of arts, science and humanities programs around Massachusetts. The council absorbed a 1 percent cut in its budget midway through this fiscal year and officials say programs are also taking a hit due to reduce federal support from the National Endowment for the Arts. “State support for MCC is already less than half of what it was a decade ago, even as the nonprofit cultural sector that it supports continues to struggle with a prolonged economic downturn that has eroded philanthropic support from all sources,” according to the council. The House plans to begin debate on its budget April 22. Senate budget debate is planned in May. - M. Norton/SHNS
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