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Early education activists look to build off of Baker's budget

Early education advocates plan in upcoming state budget deliberations to restore funding for the Head Start program and full-day kindergarten expansion grants, both of which were cut in Gov. Charlie Baker's budget proposal.

"This is the governor's recommendations, nothing is done yet. We have a long way to go through," Amy O'Leary, director of Early Education for All, said during a recent conference call with educators about the budget's impact on early education.

Under Baker's budget, Head Start receives $8.1 million. That's the same amount as fiscal year 2015, but $1 million less than the program started the fiscal year with before the governor made spending cuts to close a budget deficit, according to Massachusetts Head Start Association executive director Pam Kuechler. "We are trying to get restoration to that cut," Kuechler said.

Most Head Start funding comes from the federal government, and O'Leary said the impact of program cuts are not yet clear.

Baker's $38.1 million budget limits overall state spending growth to about 3 percent, below the projected revenue growth of 4.8 percent. The governor's budget does not include any new taxes or draw from the state's rainy day fund to pay for services, a strategy often used in recent years.

The budget will undergo statewide public hearings before House lawmakers redraft it in April and the Senate in May. The fiscal year begins July 1.

The Department of Early Education and Care was budgeted at $529.3 million, approximately $5 million less than fiscal 2015 spending levels, according to Early Education for All.

Full-day kindergarten expansion grants were not funded under Baker's budget, according to early education advocates.

Instead the governor increased Chapter 70 school funding by $105 million. Early education advocates say communities could use additional Chapter 70 money for full-day kindergarten programs, but worry eliminating the expansion grants will create disparities and delay implementation of full-day kindergarten.

Maureen Wiklund, director of curriculum in Sandwich Public Schools, said her school district is currently implementing full-day kindergarten at no cost to families. But the way the Chapter 70 funding formula works, her school district would not see an increase.

"We are one of those districts that the funding formula does not quite work for us," she said, adding it jeopardizes full-day kindergarten expansion in her district.

O'Leary predicted that full-day kindergarten funding will become a topic for lawmakers to tackle.

"This needs to be a conversation between the administration and the Legislature to ensure children have access to high-quality full-day kindergarten," she said.

Some line items did see boosts. Supportive child care, which helps families involved with the Department of Children and Families (DCF) is poised to get a $20 million increase under the governor's budget, according to Early Education for All.

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