Policy: The Downing Administration will establish a system of universal affordable, high-quality, early education and childcare for every infant through pre-kindergartener in Massachusetts.
Problem: Access to childcare is one of the defining economic justice issues of our time. In many ways, it is the single greatest determinant of early childhood development, reading proficiency, college graduation rates, and long term health and wellbeing. But inaccessibility and high costs continue to widen achievement gaps and narrow pipelines to success for children across Massachusetts .
We may tell ourselves we’re first in the nation on education, but Massachusetts has the highest childcare costs in the country—making it unaffordable for a staggering 95% of Massachusetts families. And if the average $21,000 annual cost wasn’t enough, half of Massachusetts residents before the COVID pandemic lived in communities where there were three kids for every one childcare seat. These childcare deserts disproportionately impact Black and Latinx families, putting an even greater strain on systemically overburdened and under-resourced communities. And the problem isn’t just access to care, but to high-quality care. High-quality childcare includes strong curriculum and supportive teaching in classrooms, professional development, small class sizes, and full-time schedules.
The current system also fails to support the early education and childcare workforce. Childcare workers’ families are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as other workers’ families. When 98% of the Massachusetts childcare workforce is women and more diverse than the Massachusetts population, you simply cannot talk about remedying gender pay and racial wealth gaps without tackling this issue head on.
Action Plan: Massachusetts will create a system of universal, early education and childcare for every family. Not only is this imperative for workers and families, it’s an incredible investment for the state. For every $1 invested in childcare, it saves Massachusetts taxpayers $13 in longterm costs associated with prisons, welfare, and both special education and grade repetition. An investment of $16,000-$18,000 per child annually in the early years returns a total public benefit of $700,000-$800,000 over the life of the child. Universal childcare is the best investment a government can make to support the next generation and reduce overall spending.
The Common Start Coalition has introduced legislation that would establish an affordable, high-quality system over a 5-year timeline, prioritizing the lowest-income, highest-need families. This bill forms the essential foundation of my childcare agenda, and, as Governor, I will be proud to sign that bill into law. We will:
We achieve universal access for every family in Massachusetts through a new model of funding. Where the current system bases allocation on attendance, this bill would account for capacity. This direct-to-provider funding model would offset provider operating costs, leading to higher worker wages. The Common Start legislation also ensures all policy implementation accounts for the specialized needs of parents, caregivers, and children with high needs. It also ensures equal access to our language-diverse parents and children through the utilization of bilingual staff, interpreters, and consistent document translation.
Under this plan, no family will have to pay more than 7% of their total household income for childcare services. This 7% income cap will save a typical Massachusetts family with an infant $14,000 on childcare costs, freeing up 20% of their annual income to spend on other essentials. This will also allow 34,000 more parents across the state the option to enter the labor force, and will result in robust economic activity to the tune of $4.8 billion funneled into the Massachusetts economy.
Low-income children and families are more likely to struggle to find affordable, high-quality care–and that’s why this plan puts these communities first for free access to services. Critically, this plan prioritizes under-resourced children and communities most in need of rapid-response support. This is implemented through a family-subsidy model that ensures poor and working-class families have free access to high-quality childcare from birth to school-age. The expansion structure then prioritizes further subsidies by income range, with poor and teen parent families at the top of the list. In addition to the foundation in the Common Start legislation, I will seek to include that implementation prioritize coordination with healthcare providers across the state to ensure families are made aware of these services during prenatal visits.
The childcare workforce is one of the most dramatically underpaid sectors in the country, so much so that too many childcare workers do not even make enough money to send their own children where they work. That is every kind of wrong imaginable. Under the Common Start legislation, childcare workers are finally treated like—and compensated as—the true, professional educators that they are. This is a workforce that is 90% women and upwards of 40% women of color, making just and fair wages in this sector a pillar of our larger efforts to address the gender and racial pay gaps. Under this plan, educators will receive higher salaries commensurate with equivalent K-12 teaching positions. Childcare workers will also receive expanded professional development opportunities. With an eye toward supporting incoming classes of childcare workers, the bill also establishes a grant program providing scholarships, loan forgiveness, and other financial assistance to those seeking to enter the field.
As part of the expanded services offered under this plan, the Downing Administration Childcare Coordinating Council will seek to coordinate provisions of non-childcare services to all children and their families. Through the childcare access point, families will be reminded of eligibility for other services, encouraged to enroll, and offered semi-regular check ins to offer feedback on the ways to improve the provision of services. Too often, the needs and experiences of working families are not heard and considered by policy makers. The Childcare Coordinating Council will not only aim for constant improvement of the childcare system, but will serve as a key access point for other core resources—such as health care, WIC, and diaper banks. Deeper coordination at the state level will allow for robust distribution of essential family services, and this system will ensure the state effectively receives feedback from its core constituency.