Massachusetts would gradually establish a universal system of early education and child care from birth through age 5, under a new and pricey bill backed by a statewide coalition of more than 120 groups.
The Common Start Coalition said the pandemic has underscored how critical early education and child care is for families and the economy, and access remains out of reach for many. The coalition is coordinated by a committee consisting of the Coalition for Social Justice, Greater Boston Legal Services, Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, Mass. Association of Early Education and Care, Mass. Business Roundtable, the Commission on the Status of Women, Neighborhood Villages, Parenting Journey, Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts, SEIU Local 509 and Strategies for Children. The bill's sponsors are Reps. Ken Gordon and Adrian Madaro and Sens. Susan Moran and Jason Lewis, co-chairman of the Education Committee.
The bill proposes a five-year rollout that supporters say would prioritize lowest-income, highest-need families. It would create a new direct-to-provider funding allocation, based on capacity rather than attendance. Once fully implemented, families earning less than half the statewide median income would be able to access early education and child care options for free, and families above that threshold would pay up to 7 percent of their total household income.
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The proposed program would also cover after- and out-of-school time for kids aged 5-12, and through age 15 for those with special needs.
A December poll conducted for the coalition by Beacon Research indicated voter support for the concept. Asked about state government subsidizing the cost of child care with extended hours and a sliding-scale fee that would be free to families below a certain income threshold, 64 percent of 800 voters surveyed said they backed the idea and 23 percent opposed.
Early education and child care costs are substantial for families and lawmakers have long grappled with the issue of uneven access and affordability. The coalition said its bill would cost hundreds of millions of dollars annually, with exact costs to be determined by the state Department of Early Education and Care over the course of the legislation's implementation. A coalition official said supporters envision funds being allocated from the state and federal governments.