The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston publishes a quarterly journal, Communities & Banking, which focuses on issues of concern to low- and moderate-income communities. We are pleased that early childhood is on the magazine’s radar screen. The Winter 2012 edition featured a story on the importance of third grade reading and Springfield’s citywide Read! campaign to improve early literacy in the Western Massachusetts city. Now the Spring 2012 issue features a story – “Infrastructure Investment Begins with Children” – about efforts by the Children’s Investment Fund to improve the physical condition of early education and care facilities in Massachusetts.
Among community-based facilities the fund surveyed for its recent report, 34% had inadequate heating and cooling, 54% lacked indoor active play space, 20% had one or more classrooms without windows, 22% had indoor air with elevated levels of carbon dioxide, 70% had no classroom sinks, 22% lacked workspace for teachers, and 65% lacked technology for teachers.
“Massachusetts, like other states, has invested significant private and public resources in quality improvement for early care and education and out-of-school-time services, particularly for low-income children,” the Fed story notes. “But quality — and the physical infrastructure to support it — is critical to fulfilling the state’s aspirations for these children, and clearly, the resources to fix problems cannot be found in program operating budgets. Children’s Investment Fund has therefore begun to pursue options for improving facility quality, some near term, some longer term. It is working with the business community, public officials, community development organizations, and funders to ensure that early care and education and out-of-school-time programs can make improvements.”
The article, written by Children’s Investment Fund Director Mav Pardee, outlines some of the strategies being pursued to address the problem:
- Ensure that repairs and hazardous conditions are addressed by making small grants available to nonprofit providers.
- Encourage green environments by working with utility companies to address energy efficiency that can generate operating savings and create healthier indoor spaces.
- Work with community development resources to identify capital for ensuring that community infrastructure includes early care and education and out-of-school-time facilities.
- Work with public officials, researchers, and advocates to expand the definition of quality to include the physical plant as the foundation of other quality initiatives related to children’s health, development, and education.
“The issue is so urgent and the potential benefits so high,” Pardee concludes, “that we need to find the public will to create affordable and sustainable financing to improve the buildings where the most vulnerable Massachusetts children spend their childhoods.”