The bright pink beads wrapped around the ends of 4-year-old Alisha’s braids and swung around her face every time she moved around to share her work with the state’s top education leader who was sprawled on the floor like a big kid across from her.
She turned a mini robot about in her hands, moving it this way and that, imploring it to work. Small blocks with barcodes that lined up neatly in a row beside her held the power to make it move. She scanned each one, seeking help from her teacher to determine if her selections were correct, until the robot turned on.
That level of engagement is why Education Secretary Patrick Tutwiler and Amy Kershaw, the Department of Early Education and Care acting commissioner, visited Horizons for Homeless Children in Roxbury on Tuesday. The pair advocated for funding that could provide the state’s youngest learners quality early education similar to Alisha’s.
Governor Maura Healey’s budget which was rolled out last week commits $475 million for Commonwealth Cares for Children grants for child care providers, effectively extending a program that was supported entirely with federal relief funds last fiscal year. A mix of state and federal dollars funded the grants this year. Under Healey’s plan, state money would fully cover the program next year.
The proposal “really signals a strong commitment to addressing need and weaving into the fabric of what support looks like for early [education] and care in this state,” Tutwiler said. “It was a strong signal, and I think it’s been received that way.”
The non-competitive grants are for all licensed child care programs in the state. Since 2021, the state has given the grants to 7,400 child care programs in Massachusetts, according to the early education and care department.
If the Legislature approves the governor’s finance plan, the money would continue to help eligible child care programs pay higher salaries to their teachers in attempt to curb high turnover rates. Kershaw said the state turnover rate among early education teachers hit 30 percent due to poor compensation and work environments.
Kershaw hopes the funding can continue to increase space within childcare programs by recruiting and retaining the industry’s teachers.
“Our field is fragile, and it was fragile before the pandemic with programs struggling to figure out how to balance affordability for families with quality investments and compensation that made sense for their staff,” Kershaw said.
Kate Barrand, president and CEO of Horizons for Homeless Children, told Tutwiler and Kershaw Tuesday that the funding has been transformative for the center. The organization spent the money on educators, boosting the minimum salary for entry-level teachers to $50,000.
The grant money “allows us to invest in our teachers, it allows us to pay them better, it allows us to provide professional development experiences for them,” Barrand said. “This kind of funding being supported by the state is transformative for the entire sector.”