Early education and care providers testifying at the October meeting of the Massachusetts Board of Early Education and Care set the stage for the presentation of Commissioner Sherri Killins’s proposed $50 million increase for FY14. The department’s FY13 budget is $488.1 million. Public funding of early education in Massachusetts has decreased $82 million since FY09.
One after another, six providers lauded the department for its efforts to increase quality – through such things as the Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS), support for early educators earning college degrees and assessments. One after another, they detailed their need for more funding to keep pace with the increased demands.
“The reality is as much as we support these innovative programs, additional investment is needed,” Sharon Thompson of Community Day Care of Lawrence told the board. She is losing staff to the public schools, which pay $13 an hour for paraprofessionals. “We can’t compete,” she said. (A little quick arithmetic: Someone working fulltime year-round for $13 an hour earns about $27,000 a year.) “Many of our staff,” Thompson added, “can’t afford health care even though we cover two-thirds of the cost.”
Dean Solomon of the Council of Social Concern in Woburn told the board that 20% of his early education and care staff use his agency’s food pantry. “There’s no money to give them the increase they deserve. When we can it’s very small,” he said. “I’m looking for someone with a degree. They don’t want to come.”
Amy O’Leary, director of our Early Education for All Campaign, also testified. “We know what the research tells us” about the benefits of high-quality early education, O’Leary said. “If we are serious about closing the achievement gap, we have to just as serious about funding.”
In the budget discussion, Bill Concannon, deputy commissioner for administration, presented the commissioner’s proposed FY14 aspirational budget. FY13 funding, he noted, is similar to FY06 funding. For the first time in five years, he said, the number of income- eligible children waiting for services exceeds the number of eligible children served. Commissioner Killins proposes requesting an additional $50 million for access, quality and rates. (See FY14 State Budget – Discussion.)
Chairman JD Chesloff noted that although the board has not reached consensus on the elements of its FY14 budget request, every member is prepared to ask the Legislature for a significant increase. “There’s a feeling that it’s our turn,” Chesloff told the providers who testified.
In other news:
- The board approved procuring up to $1.25 million for the FY13 Mental Health Consultation Grant. (See FY13 Mental Health Services Procurement – Discussion and Vote.)
- Commissioner Killins updated the board on the model that Anne Mitchell, co-founder of the Alliance for Early Childhood Finance, is developing to determine the cost of providing early education and care services in various settings. (See Review of the Rate Structure for Subsidized Early Education and Care – Discussion.)
- The board heard a presentation from two Educator and Provider Support (EPS) grantees – Kathy Gallo from Region 3 and Carla Seymour from Region 6. Established in FY11, EPS grants are designed to “provide a comprehensive system of professional development opportunities and services,” according to an EEC PowerPoint. Grants focus on supporting early educators to pursue degrees and/or develop their core competencies or supporting accreditation and progress advancing on QRIS. (See Educator and Provider Supports – Panel Discussion.)
The board meets next on Tuesday, November 13, from 1-4 p.m. at EEC’s central office at 51 Sleeper Street in Boston.