A day after Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh pleaded with the state to increase funding for early education, saying it can make or break a student's scholastic success or struggle, Governor Charlie Baker issued a noncommittal response.
"Well, look, every good mayor, every good city official has a set of interests and concerns that involve what I would describe as initiatives and issues that we work with them on," Baker said.
Walsh, during his 2013 campaign for mayor, had pitched universal preschool for 4-year-olds — a milestone that New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio, elected in the same cycle, has already achieved. But DeBlasio did so with significant funding from the state government, and Walsh similarly sought the support of state leaders in his State of the City address Tuesday night and in an opinion column published in the Boston Globe on Wednesday.
"We've stretched municipal and community funding as far as they can go," Walsh and Boston Public School Superintendent Tommy Chang wrote. "We need help."
Boston's full-day preschool program has been proven to close achievement gaps and to boost long-term academic, social, and emotional development, they wrote. But Boston's budget offers a preschool opportunity to fewer than half the city's 4-year-olds. The preschool seats are awarded by lottery.
Nonie Lesaux, an early-education expert and Harvard Graduate School of Education researcher whom Baker picked to lead the state Board of Early Education and Care, served as an adviser to the researchers on the Boston Public Schools study. She noted that the research shows that children benefit from high-qualify early education — not just any preschool.
"Everything about those results is consistent with what we know from the research on high-quality early education," she said.
"The challenge is, we both need to improve and expand," she said. "But Boston's a great example of high quality, and so if we can continue with that kind of work under those conditions to support the educators and the children and their families, then it's a great investment."
Baker said that he has talked about early education a lot with the Legislature. However, he would not disclose his plans for funding early education until he submits his budget for 2017 next week.
"We made a fairly significant commitment to expanding early ed in the budget in the year we're operating in right now," he said during a media availability at the State House.
Separately, Baker cited a $12 million increase — apparently pointing to the funds budgeted to get low-income children on a wait list into child care. That proposal came from the Legislature and Baker had vetoed a portion of it, but his veto was overridden. An education spokeswoman further pointed to $3.85 million in additional funding for grants to preschools and a higher budget for the Department of Early Education and Care.
Education advocates who have been urging the state to fund preschool for a decade pounced on Walsh's address, with one organization, Strategies for Children, asking constituents to write to their elected officials to seize the moment.
"I am actually really delighted that Mayor Walsh is asking the Legislature for greater investment in early education and care," said Marie St. Fleur, president of the Bessie Tartt Wilson Initiative for Children. With chronic underfunding for state-subsidized child care, preschools have been unable to pay teachers decent wages — and keep them employed — leading to empty classrooms, she said. "There has to be a real focus on stabilizing a very fragile workforce."