A sobering task force report reveals an early education system in Massachusetts that is "in crisis," according to House Speaker Robert DeLeo. A response from the speaker and the state's business community offers reason to believe that could change.
The speaker announced Wednesday that the House budget that's taking shape will address the findings of the Early Education and Care Business Advisory Group that he commissioned in March 2016. The report observed that high-quality early education is critical to educational success in later grades and ultimately to the creation of a skilled labor force, but found that early education is undermined by low salaries among the workers in the roughly 10,000 licensed child care centers in the state, as well as the resultant high employee turnover.
Speaker DeLeo was joined by lawmakers and business leaders at a press conference in which he both outlined the task force report and his recommendations to address the crisis. The root of the crisis, not surprisingly, is funding, as the report found that the median salaries for the 90,000 educators employed by the child care centers is between $22,500 and $27,500, depending on the program being taught. These salaries, which are barely above the federal poverty guideline for a family of four, represent a 2 percent drop since 2010 and have forced 39 percent of child care workers to enroll in at least one public support program. A 30 percent annual turnover rate undermines the stability of the early education system, and the report adds that because early education and child care workers are predominantly female, the low compensation contributes to the gender imbalance in salaries in the state.
Business leaders at the press conference said that a state economy based heavily on technology and innovation requires a talent pipeline that begins with top grade early education. They added that they would prefer to fill these jobs with Massachusetts workers rather than recruit from outside the state. This resonates in the Berkshires where a deeper pool of skilled workers must be created to fill local jobs and to encourage companies to expand or relocate here.
The speaker plans to propose increasing salaries and benefits through the EEC (Early Education and care) system, although specific figures have not yet been determined. Following the report's recommendation that along with higher salaries programs must be approved, Mr. DeLeo said he will address ways of improving early education curriculum and better screen young children for developmental issues.
Studies have consistently shown the importance of early childhood education in building good students who leave school prepared for a challenging world. The teachers and child care workers who are the foundation of this system deserve better compensation, and when they receive it, the loss of talented educators should be reduced and the system should move out of crisis mode.