State faces collapse of its child-care system
Thanks to Naomi Martin and Tiana Woodard for their article about struggling child-care providers (“Child-care crisis ripples through communities,” Page A1, Jan. 4). The child-care system in Massachusetts teeters on the brink of collapse, but it was not caused by COVID-19. Rather, the pandemic revealed the historic fragmentation and underinvestment in child care in the Commonwealth.
In December 2021, The Boston Foundation released “When the Bough Breaks,” which reported that the number of “seats” for young children has fallen by as much as 20 percent since the pandemic began — seats that may never return. Massachusetts has one of the most expensive child-care markets in the United States, with infant care costing as much as $2,000 a month. Providers, many of whom are women of color, operate as small businesses working within razor-thin margins.
In short, we are facing a full-scale collapse of our child-care system. The Legislature must address this critical issue, taking advantage of federal recovery funds and a state budget surplus to build a more equitable system for young families and for providers, as laid out in the Common Start bill. We can’t miss this one-time chance to build a system that really works.
Associate vice president, Education to Career
The Boston Foundation
Systemic problems won’t just go away with taming of coronavirus
Your report on the impact that the latest wave of COVID infections is having on early education and child-care settings captures the ongoing crisis in the sector. But the article hints at larger systemic problems that will not go away when the dangers posed by the coronavirus are eventually mitigated.
You cite COVID infection prevention tools that are available to K-12 schools but not to early-care and education settings. However, the disparities are not limited to vaccinations and “test and stay” protocols. Nearly all employees in K-12 schools are offered comprehensive health insurance by their employers. But a pre-pandemic survey of the state’s early care and education workforce, on which I was the lead author, found that only 61 percent who work at child-care centers in Massachusetts are offered health insurance, and 99 percent of those who work in family child-care settings are responsible for purchasing their own plans.
Today, the burden of paying for the care and education of children from birth to age 5 is placed squarely on parents, while the costs of educating those in grades K to 12 are borne by everyone, regardless of whether they have children. Early educators subsidize the overall costs of caring for and educating very young children, by working for poverty-level wages. Our survey also found that 41 percent of center educators and 25 percent of family child-care providers reported that they did not have enough money to pay for food. Even 16 percent of center directors worried about not being able to feed their families.
To weather the COVID crisis and build a foundation for the future, there is a critical need to raise compensation and benefits for early educators to levels commensurate with their professional qualifications, expertise, and societal contributions. Regardless of how we get there, it is clear that additional investment will be needed from both the public and private sectors.
The writer is a professor of early care and education at the University of Massachusetts Boston and executive director of the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation.