Rosario Monegro loves her job running a small day care in Lynn for a handful of children, ages 3 months to 8 years old. But it’s been difficult. She’s seen parents looking for child care caught between opposing forces: Some can’t afford to pay for day care, but can’t go to work and earn money without affordable, reliable child care.
“I would like all parents to have an opportunity to send their children to a family day care,” she said, speaking in Spanish. “That it’s accessible.”
Monegro came to Lowell City Hall Sunday morning with her 8-year-old son, Angel Lizardo, to join a few dozen adults and a handful of children for a playdate rally in support of a bill that would create a universal early education system in the state.
Under the bill, early education systems would receive public funding, like K-12 schools do now; preschool teachers, whose current wages sometimes put them below the poverty line, would be paid at the same levels K-12 teachers are; and families would not pay more than 7 percent of their household incomes for day care.
It’s an ambitious plan, said Representative Vanna Howard, a Lowell Democrat who spoke in favor of the legislation Sunday.
“We are leaders in a lot of things,” Howard said. “In the medical field, in higher ed. ... So we need to be a leader, especially when it comes to early education and child care.”
The Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, put the average cost of child care for an infant in Massachusetts at nearly $21,000. Low-income families can qualify for free or reduced-cost child-care vouchers, but the state is not meeting that demand. As of February, 25,441 children attended child care with public subsidies and another 13,599 children languished on a waitlist.
State Representative Kenneth Gordon, a Bedford Democrat who cosponsored the legislation, said he encouraged his colleagues in the Legislature to look at funding sources for the bill. Advocates have suggested using money from the federal $1.85 trillion Build Back Better package — which in its current form has $400 billion for child-care subsidies — or an additional 4 percent tax on income over $1 million, known as the “millionaire’s tax,” iterations of which have been proposed (and derailed by a lawsuit) in recent years.
“But with this bill, like like many we do, you’ve got to weigh passing a bill like this against not passing it. What is the cost of doing nothing?” Gordon said. He pointed to small businesses in his district having a hard time finding workers, in part because parents of young children cannot find affordable day care.
“Can we afford to have a system in which people have no affordable and safe and secure place to bring children?” Gordon asked.
Karen Frederick, chief executive of Community Teamwork in Lowell, said she is seeing parents struggle to afford child care.
“Parents are paying as much as they’re paying for mortgages and rents these days,” Frederick said. “It’s really critical that we look at making it affordable for people, and that it’s high quality, and that it’s accessible. And all of those things have to come together.”
Community Teamwork, which cares for about 1,200 children a day, can pay its early childhood educators an entry-level wage of $15 an hour, or about $50,000 a year, for teachers who have a bachelor’s degree.
“Figure that compared to a teacher in a public school, who starts at much higher than that, typically also works fewer hours a day, and fewer days during the year,” Frederick said. “We really need to address that.”
As a result, some teachers are moving from preschool and infant care to teaching older kids at public schools, said Mark Reilly, vice president of policy and government relations at Jumpstart for Young Children. The organization has a program for college students to get training and hands-on experience in early education, but not all of them end up working in the field.
“That’s something we’ve seen all the time at Jumpstart, where we have folks who are so excited to work with young children, they love the opportunity, they have now the training to do it. But they just can’t make the math work,” Reilly said. “In many cases, they’re also taking on debt in order to acquire a credential to enter the field. And when you combine that with wages that are as low as they are in this field, it just doesn’t work.”
Melissa Crowley, who has been a preschool teacher for 20 years, came to the rally with her German shorthaired pointer dog, Piper. She said the bill would offer necessary support for both families who need child care and people working in the industry.
“We’re in the digs of it,” Crowley said. “We’re there for support, and we need support too. "
Stephanie Ebbert of the Globe Staff contributed reporting.
Gal Tziperman Lotan is a former Globe staff member.