The benefits of accessible, affordable, and quality early education and care are significant, lasting, and critical to addressing some of the Commonwealth’s most entrenched issues. A successful early-education and care system allows parents, in particular working mothers, to be fully productive and active participants in the workforce, provides caregivers and educators with high-quality employment opportunities, and begins the formal education and development of our children and future workforce. In addition to these immediate benefits, investments in the system will compound over time. With targeted investments in our early-education professionals, and the subsequent improvement in the quality of care, we can begin to address the root causes associated with persistent problems such as the achievement gap and income inequality and ensure continued economic success in the Commonwealth.
The economic and societal advantages of a high-quality early-education and care system, which are multifaceted and multigenerational, rely on a skilled and dedicated workforce. Research indicates that children who receive high-quality care are more likely to pursue and persist through higher education and find gainful employment. Additionally, parents are far more committed to, and productive in, their jobs when they know that their children are receiving high-quality care, and that the care can have a valuable long-term impact on their child’s future. In particular, access to quality care allows more mothers to remain in the workforce and continue to advance in their careers. The impacts are felt more broadly as fewer public resources are needed for future interventions to compensate for a lack of early skill-building and its associated benefits.
To achieve these long-term benefits, the Legislature has an opportunity to build on the investment of public and private stakeholders. Through substantial grants and provider rate increases, the state has started to significantly strengthen early-education services and programs. It has also leveraged federal dollars to establish new preschool classrooms and programs.
However, barriers to expanding access and enhancing quality of education and care continue to hinder progress. Specifically, professionals in this sector tend to be under-supported both financially and professionally. The substandard compensation of early educators has led to high turnover, which adversely impacts the quality of care. An average salary for an early educator ranges from $22,000 to $27,000, compared with $40,000 for an entry-level public school teacher. Not only is that salary unsustainable, but the lack of clear career pathways discourages professionals from seeking out additional education. While we in the business community commend the state for its dedication in this area, the Commonwealth can do more to address these issues.
The state House of Representatives has proposed a comprehensive and targeted early-education and care package that works to address many of the challenges facing the sector’s workforce. Most notably, House Speaker Robert DeLeo proposes increasing the provider rate by $20 million and dedicating $8.5 million to establishing workforce- and professional-development programs with the state’s community colleges. These proposals will help to elevate the early-education and care profession by offering a livable wage and the opportunity to build the skills that are necessary for a long-term career in the field.
As the House and Senate work to finalize their budget recommendations for fiscal year 2019, the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership encourages the Conference Committee to adopt he House proposals. Be assured, the return on this investment will minimize the need for the Legislature to spend additional time and money in the future, since these solutions target the underlying cause of many entrenched problems. The Legislature has the opportunity to demonstrate its continued commitment to our children, families, and the early educators who provide the quality care that cultivates an inclusive and productive economy.
Jay Hooley is chairman of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership’s Committee on Education and Workforce Development and chairman and CEO of State Street Corporation. Sheila Lirio Marcelo is chairwoman of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership’s Committee on Womenomics and founder, chairwoman, and CEO of Care.com.