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Eastern Bank's early childhood work two years ago, under chief executive Bob Rivers.
Eastern Bank's early childhood work two years ago, under chief executive Bob Rivers.Photo courtesy of Eastern Bank

About 70 Massachusetts employers have joined a new coalition aimed at promoting early childhood funding and policies at the state and federal level, as well as private-sector programs for working parents with young children.

The leaders of the Massachusetts Business Coalition for Early Childhood Education are officially launching the effort this week, but it’s been in the works roughly 18 months. It’s the brainchild of Bob Rivers, the chief executive of Eastern Bank. Rivers began the legwork in 2019 by devoting time and resources from the bank and its foundation toward early childhood education causes. He pulled together cochairs for the effort, and subsequently began seeking businesses that would be willing to join.

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Rivers said the coalition’s main goal is to promote early childhood education, both to help relieve working parents and to better prepare the state’s kids when they grow up to join the workforce. These issues have only become more important since the COVID-19 pandemic scrambled many families’ traditional support systems, and will likely vex many employers as they try to bring their workers back to the office after a long hiatus.

“The impetus, broadly described, is really to advocate for and to help create a more robust system of early child care and education in Massachusetts,” said Rivers, one of the coalition’s five cochairs. “Right now, the system is very fragmented, and relatively underfunded compared to other aspects of the educational system, and has been particularly decimated in the midst of the pandemic.”

The coalition’s other cochairs are Jon Bernstein, regional president at PNC Bank; Linda Henry, chief executive of Boston Globe Media Partners; Roger Crandall, chief executive of MassMutual; and Bridget Long, dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The coalition’s companies vary significantly in size and industry. While there is a heavy concentration of Boston-area companies, Rivers hopes to attract more businesses from other parts of the state to join the coalition, such as early member MassMutual, headquartered in Springfield.

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“It took us a while before we recruited businesses,” Rivers said. “We wanted to make sure we had the right leadership in place.”

Rivers said it’s too early to disclose the specific state and federal policies that the coalition will promote. He said the group plans to meet later this month to review a slate of policies, and would be able to share more details at that point. He also would like the coalition members to share best practices, in terms of how to support child care and education among the families of their own employees. Rivers expects the group to convene three or four times every year, with some members working on projects between those meetings.

Rivers and his peers have not established the coalition as a separate organization. Instead, they plan to provide support from their own respective companies, at least for now. Along those lines, Eastern hired two prominent early childhood experts in 2019 as “foundation fellows”: Rahn Dorsey, a former education chief for the city of Boston, and Tom Weber, the former commissioner of the state Department of Early Education and Care. Both work for the Eastern Bank Charitable Foundation, and Weber will serve as the Massachusetts coalition’s executive director. The Massachusetts Business Roundtable is hosting the coalition’s website.

The coalition is drawing inspiration from previous business-backed efforts, such as the “Success by 6″ children’s advocacy initiative in Boston launched during the 1990s and a similar effort that began in Pennsylvania in 2010, called the Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission, that’s still in operation today.

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“In many ways, the initial call to action is more urgent now as employers try to bring their employees back to work [post-pandemic],” Rivers said. “There’s a real need for not only greater funding but greater infrastructure to support these small businesses [in particular].”

Interested businesses can find out more information and join the coalition by going to its website, at: http://www.maroundtable.com/MBCECE/main.html.



Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.