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Early educators rally for more state support
State House News Service, Story by Michael Norton, April 24, 2017
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, APRIL 24, 2017...About 200 early education supporters rallied outside the State House Monday, thanking lawmakers for their efforts to boost the salaries of early educators but urging them to do more to help young learners and workers whose wages place them on the edge of poverty.
Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz told the ralliers that she was able to be at the rally because she knows her young children are being cared for while she is at work.
"We depend on you," said Chang-Diaz, co-chair of the Legislature's Education Committee. "Look, I'm here because I know where my kids are today and they're with tremendously talented educators, and I don't worry. Our economic viability as a state depends on you."
But early educators earn on average $26,000 per year, Chang-Diaz said, just above the poverty level for a family of four. Ralliers shouted in agreement as she said early education workers can't afford to pay their mortgages, pay down their student loans or send their own children to early education.
Early Education Commissioner Tom Weber did not address the House budget amendments ralliers are pushing this week but told the assembled early educators, predominantly women, that they play critical roles in contributing to the state's success in education and its overall quality of life.
"You are the Commonwealth's unsung heroes. You are," said Weber, urging ralliers to build relationships in the state Legislature where representatives and senators decide how to spend $40 billion per year. "We're not going to win this cause in one day," said Weber.
Noting she meets with him monthly, Chang-Diaz said Weber has been an ally in the fight to improve early education and "has been scrounging in the couch cushions for months" to find money for salary supports.
Women, including many women of color, hold together a system of 90,000 educators who nurture and educate the state's youngest children, said Jesse Mermell, president of the Alliance for Business Leadership. Supporting early educators and their salaries, she said, will help address income inequality.
"Lifting these women and their families out of mere poverty or having to rely on multiple jobs just to get by may be a small drop in the bucket when it comes to addressing inequality, but it is significant nonetheless," Mermell said.
The pending House budget supports early education with a $15 million salary reserve and a $2.5 million investment in early education mental health consultation grants that doubles this year's funding in the hopes of identifying learning challenges earlier in life.
Also, early education programs that provide care for low-income families in Massachusetts will receive a 6 percent increase in rates paid by the state, a financial jolt that may help with employee retention, the Baker administration announced in March. The Baker administration estimated the value of the new rates at $28.6 million and called it the largest increase in rates for the subsidized programs in ten years.
House leaders just before 11:30 a.m. announced that education-related budget amendments would be the subject of debate among House members during a private meeting at 11:30 a.m. in a House lounge area. By late afternoon, the outcome of those talks was not yet apparent.
The Massachusetts Association of Early Education & Care supports a Rep. Alice Peisch amendment (1,003) increasing the early education rate reserve to $20 million, from $15 million, and another Peisch amendment (944) designed to carry over surplus funding from two line items for potential rate supports. A third amendment backed by the group increases supplemental funding for the Head Start program by $2.9 million, to $12 million.
Sen. Sal DiDomenico said he's rolling out a Kids First report May 2 that will address a holistic approach to educating children from the time that they are born until third grade.
DiDomenico told early educators to be prepared to hear lawmakers say they will support them.
"At the end of the day, the question isn't, Are you going to support us?" he said. "The question is, At what level are you going to support us? Are you going to be there when a tough vote comes before you? Are you going to sign on to letters to our leadership? Are you going to speak to our leadership and tell them how important this is to you and the families you serve? So support doesn't mean anything. Words mean nothing. Action means everything."