Emphasis on quality rather than access at early education event
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MARCH 24, 2016.....Speaking to an auditorium packed with early education providers, the House chair of the Legislature's Education Committee urged them to "make the case for quality over access this year" to move closer to providing early education for all children.
"What I would like to encourage all of you to do ... is to indicate that this year the priority is on quality and that means on the rates for the workforce as opposed to -- and this is a difficult choice -- increasing access," Rep. Alice Peisch said. "Unfortunately, we're not in position where we have unlimited funds and we can do both. That would be ideal."
Peisch said she thinks there has not been a "realization of how desperate this field is in terms of the resources needed" and that bolstering the workforce is the first step to being able to provide universal early education.
"As long as we prioritize access over quality, we are doing two things: we are not able to provide the resources that we actually need to get quality and we're seeing today that we actually cannot increase access because we can't find the people to fill those positions," she said.
Early education groups from around the state packed a State House auditorium Thursday to push for a $40 million investment in the early education workforce in the fiscal 2017 budget, which advocates said would raise early educator wages by 90 cents per hour and in turn address high levels of turnover among early educators.
The Coalition for Quality Early Education -- a group that includes representatives from the Association for Early Education and Care, Massachusetts Head Start Association, Massachusetts YMCAs Association, Put Massachusetts Kids First and Strategies for Children -- said the "1.2 or 1.3 percent increase" in funding for early educator salaries are "unacceptable."
"I don't think there's anybody in this room that does not believe that there needs to be a major investment in our workforce. Let's face it, our early education workforce is in crisis and there's no question about it," said Leo Delaney, president of the Massachusetts Association of Early Education & Care. "We cannot let this continue and the only way to fix this is to invest in our workforce and invest big."
According to the coalition, the $40 million investment could raise the average hourly wage for an early educator from $12.25 to $13.10 an hour and advances entry-level teaching staff towards a minimum wage of $15 per hour by fiscal 2019.
Among early educators, the coalition said, staff turnover rates hover around 30 percent, and the churn of educators in the classroom hinders the quality of the education and care provided to children.
Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry addressed the crowd and noted that early education plays an important role for children, but also for adults and the state's economy because it "allows parents to be able to work and do what they can to lift themselves out of poverty."
In his annual address to the House in January, House Speaker Robert DeLeo renewed his push for "sustainable" reforms to the state's early education framework. Early education generated a lot of discussion during the 2014 gubernatorial campaign but has not been a major debate topic during the 2015-2016 legislative session.
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