Return to News

Early ed supporters see payoff in "Common Start"
State House News Service, Story by Katie Lannan, November 23, 2021

NOV. 23, 2021.....Littleton resident Kristen Guichard told lawmakers she pays $47,000 to send her two kids to day care four days a week, providing them with a supportive environment she feels lucky to have. It's a price tag she knows not everyone can afford and that can come with challenges that go beyond strictly financial, she said.

"While my kids were attending the day care of our choice and I went off to work each day knowing my kids were happy, safe and nurtured, another person close to me in my community was struggling with a very difficult choice," Guichard said at an Education Committee hearing Tuesday. "She was in an abusive relationship, but her partner watched her children and she could not afford other child care. As a result, she felt she had to stay in that abusive relationship just so that the children could be watched during the day and she could work."

Encouraging lawmakers to consider "impossible choices" facing parents, Guichard testified in support of a bill that would gradually establish a universal system of early education and child care from birth through age 5 in Massachusetts.

The bill (H 605/S 362), filed in the House by Reps. Ken Gordon and Adrian Madaro and in the Senate by Education Committee co-chair Sen. Jason Lewis and Sen. Susan Moran, proposes a five-year rollout of a program that would ultimately allow families earning less than half the statewide median income to access early education and child care for free, with families earning above that threshold paying up to 7 percent of their total household income. It would also create a new direct-to-provider funding allocation, based on capacity rather than attendance.

The Common Start Coalition, which backs the bill, has said its exact costs will be determined by the Department of Early Education and Care over the course of implementation but projects hundreds of millions of dollars in new annual costs during the five-year rollout and an ultimate cost somewhere in the range of $2 billion.

According to the coalition, the bill is co-sponsored by 98 state representatives and 30 senators, representing a majority in each branch.

Bill backers drew parallels to the Student Opportunity Act, the 2019 school finance reform law designed to steer $1.5 billion more to K-12 schools over its seven-year implementation period.

"I'm really confident that the members of both the House and the Senate understand and want to solve this problem of early education and get access to [it], and I know that it's only because of the complexity of it that we haven't been able to to take the bold action that we need to take," Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus, told the committee. "I'm here to say to you that similar to the Student Opportunity Act, we, the Progressive Caucus is here in full support and we'll do any work that you, the lead sponsors, and you, chairs, need us to do because this is such an important issue for so many of us."

Like the Student Opportunity Act, the "Common Start" early education bill does not include a funding source for its proposed investments.

Supporters said a federal spending package that passed the U.S. House last week, known as the Build Back Better Act, would help the state pay for the bill. Similar to the measure proposed here in Massachusetts, the Build Back Better plan would cap child-care costs for middle-class families at 7 percent of income.

Jumpstart's Mark Reilly said the Build Back Better Act's child care components are estimated to bring $1.3 billion to Massachusetts in the first three years.

"But the bill leaves the details to the states and requires a state match in order to access the federal resources," Reilly said. "The Common Start bill is necessary to provide the state framework to address how both state and federal funds should be spent to serve the commonwealth's residents. Rather than be unprepared for the arrival of billions over the next few years without a clear plan, let's adopt the policy framework of Common Start now se we can be thoughtful stewards of these resources and hit the ground running."

Latoya Gale, senior director of the Neighborhood Villages Action Fund, said in written testimony that while fixing early education will come with a "substantial" cost, it is also a "smart investment."

"Long-term, there's a 13:1 return on investment for every dollar we spend on early education. That's a better return than anything else we do as a nation," she said. "Children who attend early learning programs do better in school, are more likely to graduate from high school, have better overall health, and go on to earn more money over their lifetime."

Several speakers described the workforce impacts of a lack of access to child care.

Cape Air CEO and founder Dan Wolf, a former state senator, said child care is a "huge issue" for the parents employed by his company, including for middle-income earners. He said there are women "who could not come back to work post-pandemic because of the child care issue."

Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz, a Jamaica Plain Democrat who is running for governor, said there are "crisis-level turnover rates" in the early education and child care sectors "because we don't pay a living wage."

Rep. Gordon, the lead House sponsor, told a story of an encounter he had last weekend with a butcher shop owner who was downsizing and selling equipment like a deli slicer. The man told Gordon he didn't have enough workers to cut the meat and take orders, so was switching to more expensive, pre-sliced products.

Gordon brought up his bill, and the deli owner said he was intrigued because he had spoken to young parents who would not come work for him because they had no one to care for their children, and others who said they couldn't afford child care on the wages. He recalled paying $22,000 a year for his own child's care -- as much as his wife's income -- and said he was glad he did it because it was a great experience for the child, Gordon said.

"That story points out almost every group that benefits from this legislation," Gordon, a Bedford Democrat, said. "It'll help young families access safe and affordable child care. It'll help children get the head start to their education that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. It will help that young parent who wants to work but can't go to work because child care costs outweigh the wages they could earn on the job. It will help small business owners like that butcher access the labor market, and I guess the only group that I didn't bring up is it will also help the child care and preschool providers by stabilizing their finances, and it will help the teachers and other employees by stabilizing their wages."


Serving the working press since 1894



617.330.7380                               400 Atlantic Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02110                               info@strategiesforchildren.org