May 10, 2023

High-quality early education and care plays a vital role in children’s lifelong learning and well-being and has a very high return on investment for children, families, and communities. It also enables families to enter, re-enter, and remain in the workforce. At EDC, we partner with families, educators, policymakers, and many others to produce research and develop interventions that strengthen early education and care and improve outcomes for children.

In my research at EDC, I’ve studied multiple strategies to improve access to high-quality early education and care—including co-leading an Early Childhood Workforce Development Research Alliance for the REL Northeast & Islands at EDC and reporting on universal prekindergarten (UPK). From my frequent meetings with early education and care leaders, I’ve witnessed the pressing need for more data and resources to significantly improve the issue of limited access to high-quality early education and care.

To help address these issues in Massachusetts, I joined the Data Committee of the Boston Opportunity Agenda’s Birth to Eight Collaborative in early 2020. The Birth to Eight Collaborative engages families and 200 representatives from early education centers, family child-care facilities, nonprofit organizations, schools, and public health, philanthropy, and medical institutions in working to “ensure all young children are ready for sustained success in kindergarten and beyond.”1 The Collaborative’s Data Committee explores and reports on early education and care issues.

I remember attending one of the Data Committee’s last in-person meetings in early March 2020. We were already focused on the urgent issue of available childcare, but there was no way we could anticipate or prepare for where the COVID-19 pandemic would take our society and the early education and care field. Since then, the Data Committee has convened virtually and reported in real time on key developments, such as the city’s response to the early childhood crisis, early childhood center closings, and very high workforce turnover.

To date, the Data Committee has released four reports: State of Early Care and Education in Boston: Supply, Demand, Affordability, and Quality (2019); Boston’s Child Care Supply Crisis: What a Pandemic Reveals (2020); Boston’s Child Care Supply Crisis: The Continued Impact of a Pandemic (2021); and (Re)Building Boston’s Early Education and Care Sector: Supply, Affordability and Quality Needed (2023). The last three reports share findings on the status of early education and care in Boston as well as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The following are a few key findings from the most recent report, (Re)Building Boston’s Early Education and Care Sector (p. 6):2

  • Child care in Boston is unaffordable for the majority of families.
  • An estimated 76 percent of children ages birth to 2 years old in Boston did not have access to formal early education and care in 2022.
  • As of 2021, Massachusetts had almost 5,000 fewer early educators, on average, than before the pandemic.

This report also spotlights the following five policy recommendations to ensure all families in Boston with children under the age of five can access high-quality early education and care (pp. 22–23):3

  • Advocate for increased and sustained public investment in the early education and care field.
  • Continue to invest in and expand UPK for 3- and 4-year-olds.
  • Building on UPK work, create a Boston initiative that expands access to high-quality early education and care for infants and toddlers.
  • Leverage the new City of Boston’s Office of Early Childhood to define indicators and house data for tracking and improving Boston’s early education and care field. Advance equity in data collection, access, and utilization to create a robust data system.
  • Coordinate with state-level advocacy to help fund and sustain city-level efforts.

Exciting work is already underway. Leaders in Boston and Massachusetts are working every day to remedy the critical challenge of access to affordable, high-quality early education and care.

Governor Maura Healey, Mayor Michelle Wu, Secretary of Education Patrick Tutwiler, Early Education and Care Commissioner Amy Kershaw, and legislative leaders are committed to finding a sustainable solution by leveraging resources and funding to accomplish this goal.

Governor Healey’s proposed FY24 state budget to the legislature reflected this commitment through identified funding, such as expanding Commonwealth Cares for Children (C3) operational grants and subsidies across the state. Strategies for Children, a leader in the field, is mobilizing organizations and individuals across the state to carry out the Early Childhood agenda, a collective action effort that identified 10 priorities to move the state toward solutions. The City of Boston has created a new Office of Early Childhood. And, the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care has created a new Early Childhood Educator Pilot to provide child-care financial assistance to early education and care staff.

These are all important investments and steps forward. Yet it will take a sustained, collaborative effort of all organizations, government, and the business community to meet the growing demand for early education and care in the city, the state, and the nation. Only by working together, can we provide equitable access to affordable, high-quality early education and care to all families—and to ensure all young children have a great start.

Are you working to strengthen early education and care in your state or nationally? Tell us about your work in the comments below.

 

Audrey Gallo is an experienced EDC researcher and expert policy analyst focusing on educational improvement. Her work focuses on early childhood education, the care economy, college and career readiness, STEM equity, and computational thinking.

 


1Boston Opportunity Agenda. (2023). Birth to eight collaborative. https://www.bostonopportunityagenda.org/what-we-do/birth-to-eight-collaborative

2Campbell, F. Q., Villarreal, P. G., Patil, P. A., & Birth to Eight Collaborative Data Committee. (2023). (Re)Building Boston’s early education and care sector: Supply, affordability and quality needed (p. 6). https://tbf.org/-/media/tbf/reports-and-covers/2023/boa_early-ed-and-care-report-20230503.pdf

3Campbell et al., pp. 22–23

Early Childhood Development and Learning

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