The push to establish publicly funded, universal early childhood education in Massachusetts took a playful turn Saturday morning, as dozens of demonstrators and their young children gathered on Boston Common to show support for a bill that advocates say would transform how families pay for child care.
Children waved scarves, danced to guitar music from Vanessa Trien and the Jumping Monkeys, and sang songs while their parents spread information about the legislation, known as the Common Start bill, which is set to be examined during a hearing Tuesday with the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education.
“I think it’s extremely important that families are able to get child care that is affordable,” said Troy Gayle of Dorchester, an engineer and father of four children. “When you have to pay for child care, it’s like you’re paying college tuition. It’s really not attainable for a lot of people.”
His wife, Latoya Gayle, is senior director of advocacy at Neighborhood Villages, a nonprofit that advocates for affordable, high-quality early education and care. She said the industry is struggling to attract workers because of low wages.
“We’re not paying workers enough money to do really hard, important jobs,” she said. “And then on the other end, it’s still really expensive for families because the cost of doing really good work is a lot.”
Unveiled in February, the bill would publicly fund child care, boost teachers’ wages, and limit families’ child-care costs to 7 percent of household income. Families with children ages 5 and younger would see the most benefits. In Massachusetts, that’s about 425,000 children, said Brendan Fogarty, a volunteer policy coordinator for the Common Start Coalition, which is advocating for the bill.
The legislation does not include a funding proposal, but advocates said the state could use revenue from the federal “Build Back Better” bill that passed the US House of Representatives on Friday.
The federal bill sets aside $390 billion for the child care initiative and the universal preschool initiative. Like the Common Start legislation, the federal bill also calls for capping household expenses on child care at 7 percent for the majority of families.
If the federal legislation passes in its current form, the Center for Law and Social Policy estimates Massachusetts would receive nearly $1.3 billion to pay for child care over the next three years.
“I think it dovetails very well with federal plans right now,” Fogarty said. “The federal plans effectively have money without a lot of a plan. In fact, the federal plan requires us to submit our own ideas for how we would spend the money. Common Start is that framework.”
State Representative Adrian Madaro, a lead sponsor of the legislation and father of a six-month-old boy, Matteo, said the coronavirus pandemic has added urgency to the issue.
“I have constituents who are calling me whose jobs are waiting for them,” said Madaro, a Democrat from East Boston. “The only thing preventing from getting back into the workforce is that they can’t afford child care.”