Randy Kinnas: Early childhood education must be a state priority

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PITTSFIELD >> Preparing our children for a lifetime of learning requires accessibility to high-quality early education and care programs as well as a consistent, qualified workforce. Great educators are the key to improving outcomes for children. We know that, and it starts at birth, not in kindergarten.

The existing career pathway for our early educator workforce is unsustainable. With an average salary range of $21,000-$25,000 and a turnover rate of 30 percent in our early learning and out of school programs, it becomes increasingly challenging to retain high-quality educators.

Investment overdue

In Massachusetts, there are more than 8,800 early education and care community-based programs employing more than 40,000 people, with revenues of $1.5 billion. A meaningful investment in centers providing this elemental foundation for children is long overdue.

In Pittsfield, there are more than 2,400 children younger than five who could benefit from early education and care programs like the Pittsfield Family YMCA, providing employment to educators and work opportunities for parents. These critical programs create a strong foundation for young children to absorb the literacy and math skills that can propel them to success in school and beyond.

However, despite all of the evidence that high-quality early education and care programs play a critical role in child development and successful long-term outcomes, our state's commitment to early education continues to fall short.

Wrong priorities

Gov. Baker's spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year misses the mark in this regard. Over the past 15 years, state spending on early education and care has dropped by $114 million. At the same time, state spending on K-12 schools has more than kept pace with inflation, and the governor's proposed budget adds $105 million in new money for those schools.

Since research proves that the foundation for the development of a child's brain is from birth to age five, why is the state removing funds from this crucial period?

Disparities in cognition and health can become evident as early as nine months of age in low-income children compared to their higher-income peers. Children who participate in high-quality early education programs have better outcomes in educational attainment and careers. With these programs, children from low-income families are less likely to repeat a grade, require remedial services, engage with the criminal justice system, and are more likely to complete high school and graduate from college.

A 'must-have'

The "Put Massachusetts Kids First" coalition, a group of more than two dozen early childhood education organizations and out-of-school programs, seeks a public policy funding shift to address our commonwealth's youngest children. An ongoing strategy is needed to invest in our children through quality in early education, which includes the development of a well-qualified and compensated educator workforce.

The Coalition calls for a renewed commitment to put our youngest children on the right track. To quote the president, "High-quality child care (is) not a nice-to-have — it's a must-have. It's time we stop treating child care as a side issue, or a women's issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us."

It's up to the governor and Massachusetts Legislature to make this a priority.

Randy Kinnas is CEO and executive director of the Pittsfield Family YMCA.


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