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State HouseOn Sunday, June 29, the six-member budget conference committee released its fiscal year 2015 state budget. At stake was $32 million in funding differences between House and Senate proposals for early education and care programs. The final version invests approximately $25 million of that amount in early education.

The $36.5 billion FY15 budget includes more than $534 million for early education and care, including $15 million in new spending for serving children on the state’s Income Eligible waiting list, a $6.57 million rate reserve for early educator salaries and benefits, and a new $1 million pre-k classroom grant program. Core quality support programs were preserved with level funding, including Universal Pre-K grants, Full-Day Kindergarten, and the Early Childhood Educator Scholarship.

This budget represents the largest funding increase for early education since 2008. Your collective advocacy for investments in young children made it possible!

The Legislature passed the budget on Monday afternoon, which is now sent to Governor Patrick who has 10 days to review and sign it into law or make vetoes. A $4.6 billion interim budget will keep the government funded through July.

Massachusetts readers: Contact Governor Patrick today and ask him to sign the FY15 budget into law.

Visit our website for a complete listing of early education and care line items in the state budget, or contact Titus DosRemedios at tdosremedios@strategiesforchildren.org for more information.

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Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Kindergarten is changing, according to a recent Education Week article called “The Case for the New Kindergarten: Challenging and Playful.”

Not only are more children enrolled in kindergarten — nationally, 56 percent of children attended full-day kindergarten in 1998, compared to 80 percent today (and 88% in Massachusetts) — but kindergarten classrooms “are also far more academically oriented.”

“Our research shows that most kindergarten teachers now think academic instruction should begin in preschool and indicate that it’s important for incoming kindergartners to already know their letters and numbers. Today’s kindergarten teachers are spending much more time on literacy and expect their students to learn to read before first grade.”

The article was written by Daphna Bassok, an assistant professor of education and public policy at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, Amy Claessens, an assistant professor at the Harris School of Public Policy Studies at the University of Chicago, and Mimi Engel, an assistant professor of public policy and education at the Peabody College of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University. (more…)

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GOV Forum logoIn a forum at UMass Boston on Saturday, eight of the candidates in the Massachusetts race for governor made news by agreeing that the commonwealth should improve the quality of preschool programs and expand access to them.

This consensus adds to the growing political support for early education and care both here in Massachusetts and nationally. Ten years ago, research on the benefits of high-quality pre-k were not widely understood, nor part of the public discourse. Today, policymakers and candidates understand that these programs are essential first steps in educating children and preparing them to succeed in the state’s high-tech economy.

Sponsored by Strategies for Children and more than two dozen other organizations (see program agenda for full sponsor list), the “Early Childhood and Education: Closing the Achievement and Opportunity Gaps – 2014 Gubernatorial Candidates Forum” gave candidates the opportunity to share their vision for educating the state’s youngest children. It was a chance to hear how the next governor of Massachusetts might reshape the landscape of early education and care. (more…)

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Last week, the Massachusetts Senate Committee on Ways and Means released its budget proposal for fiscal year 2015. Since that time, several amendments to the budget have been filed to increase funding for early education and care, including restoring cuts to Universal Pre-K and Full-Day Kindergarten grants, and funding a rate reserve for early educator salaries, benefits and professional development. Senators will debate these amendments this week.

Massachusetts readers, be sure to contact your senator today to urge their support for early education amendments.

Here is a list of amendments to increase funding for high-quality early education and care in the Senate FY15 budget: (more…)

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Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

We’ve recently updated our Strategies for Children research and policy briefs, adding new content and updating existing briefs. This “Briefs and Resources” webpage is a one-stop-shopping site for much of the existing research on high-quality early education, culled from decades of published studies by experts in child development, economics, language development, and more. Here’s a sample of the information you can find on pre-K, full-day kindergarten, early educators, and reading proficiency.

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“Evaluations of State-Funded Pre-K Programs:” is a new brief that looks at the impact of several currently operating, state-funded pre-K programs.

“As the number of children served through state-based pre-K programming has increased, so has the evidence base of program effectiveness,” this brief explains. A growing collection of studies support “the overall conclusion that effective pre-K programming can improve academic and social-emotional outcomes for students in both the short and long term.”

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(more…)

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Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

“All children should have guaranteed access to high-quality, publicly funded full-day K each day of the school week if they are to meet the learning and work-force challenges of the 21st century,” according to the Children’s Defense Fund, a national advocacy organization.

But across the country, full-day kindergarten is only available to some children, while others only get two or three hours a day.

A recent Washington Post article pointed to the “time crunch” of half-day kindergarten, noting, “Mary Waldman began her career teaching kindergartners how to hold a pencil and write their ABCs. Fifteen years later, she is teaching Loudoun County students to read books and write stories. While academic expectations have grown exponentially over the years, the length of the school day has stayed the same: Three hours.”

The Post adds, “About 75 percent of kindergartners nationwide are enrolled in full-day programs, three times the rate of a few decades ago, as many school districts have come to view kindergarten as an academic starting point, rather than a practicing ground for the rhythms and routines of school. But that leaves about a million students for whom kindergarten still lasts just a few hours a day.” (more…)

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Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children

Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children

Early education is getting welcome attention from local and national political leaders. President Obama and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick are only two of the leaders who have called — as recently as last week — for expanding access to high-quality preschool programs.

This sweeping momentum is also making news, as journalists, columnists, and educators weigh in on the issue. Here’s a roundup of some recent stories and opinion pieces.

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Cory Booker: Building on the Success of the War on Poverty,” The Wall Street Journal, January 24, 2014

“Our national investment strategy is hardly a strategy at all,” New Jersey’s new senator, Cory Booker, wrote in this opinion piece. “We are failing to invest in areas that not only produce great social returns but also reduce federal spending in the long run. Most glaring of all, we’ve got our priorities wrong: We are failing to maximize the productivity of our greatest natural resource—our people.”

“In a global, knowledge-based economy, the genius of our children is our nation’s greatest asset. Universal pre-K is a must: Based just on cost-benefit analysis, the evidence is overwhelming.”

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Pre-K, The Great Debate,” Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times, January 29, 2014

“Against all odds, prekindergarten is gaining ground,” Kristof, a Times columnist, wrote.

“Aside from apple pie, preschool may also be the only issue on which voters agree.”

“Yet one obstacle is the misperception that early education has been debunked by researchers — when, in fact, it’s the opposite.” (more…)

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Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children

Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children

Early education has been showing up in political speeches and making national headlines, but as a Wall Street Journal MarketWatch article points out, full-day kindergarten may need attention as well.

As the Journal’s article explains, “often lost in the debate about improving early education, advocates say, is the fact that many students don’t even have access to full-day public kindergarten. Instead, the only option is half-day programs, which last from two and a half to three hours a day, compared with the typical six hours of instruction offered through full-day programs.”

Reporter Jonnelle Marte spoke with Early Education for All campaign director Amy O’Leary for more information on this critical early education policy. “Education advocates argue that some of the progress made in pre-K can be stalled if students move to a half-day program the following year. Children who go to full-day kindergarten spend 30% more time on reading and literacy and 46% more time learning math than children in half-day programs, according to Strategies for Children, which focuses on improving education in Massachusetts. Those students also tend to get more one-on-one attention from their teachers, says Amy O’Leary, the director for the Early Education for All Campaign at Strategies for Children. ‘It’s not just about doubling the time, it is about being intentional with the time,’ she says.” (more…)

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Mayor Angel Taveras Photo Courtesy of the Providence Mayor's Office

Mayor Angel Taveras
Photo Courtesy of the Providence Mayor’s Office

Here’s a powerful campaign promise: Providence Mayor Angel Taveras says that if he wins Rhode Island’s gubernatorial race, he will launch a massive expansion of his state’s preschool programs.

The Brown Daily Herald reported that Taveras has “a goal of enrolling 76 percent of the state’s eligible children in pre-kindergarten by the end of his first term in office and accommodating all eligible students by 2023.”

His approach is explained in the policy report, “Ready Rhode Island: Angel Taveras’ Plan for Universal Pre-Kindergarten.”

“Research shows that supporting early childhood education is a direct investment in the building blocks of long-term economic development,” Taveras writes in the report. “Universal pre-kindergarten is a critically important first-step in strengthening Rhode Island’s cradle-to-career workforce development pipeline.”

Taveras himself is a Head Start graduate, and he has praised the program on the Our Head Start website, writing, “When I was at Harvard, I found out my roommate from Poughkeepsie also attended Head Start. We always joked, ‘There must be something about that program…!’” (more…)

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Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children

Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children

Gateway Cities – the onetime mill and manufacturing towns that helped fuel the economy in Massachusetts – fell on hard times when the industrial era faded.

“Our economic strategy for the past several years has been centered on creating only highly-skilled, high-paying jobs in high-profile cities,” Suffolk Construction CEO John Fish said at a recent Gateway Cities event hosted by the local nonprofit think tank MassINC. “The result has been limited growth throughout the rest of the commonwealth, and a middle class that has been cast aside.”

Now these 26 cities – from Brockton, Lawrence and Lowell to New Bedford, Westfield and Worcester — are making a comeback.

Refusing to be branded as “underperforming,” the Gateway Cites are using a new report to “articulate a vision for effective 21st-century learning systems,” as Mayor Kimberley Driscoll of Salem and Mayor Lisa Wong of Fitchburg explain in the report. Called “The Gateway Cities Vision for Dynamic Community-Wide Learning Systems,” it was released earlier this month by MassINC. (more…)

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