Earlier this month, Child Care Aware of America released their annual report, Parents and the High Cost of Child Care, which finds that for the second year in a row MA is the most expensive state for child care in the country. Preschool for 4-year olds costs families an average of $11,669 per year for center-based programs and $9,496 for family child care. These costs bring to mind the multiple challenges faced by families and early education programs, and demonstrate the need for expanded access to universal pre-Kindergarten programs. Last month, Conversations on Early Learning described the strain placed on community preschools in Boston created by the expansion of the Boston Public School’s Kindergarten 1 (K1) program for 4 year olds. While the BPS K1 program improves access to early education, it has also made it difficult for community preschools to compete. Since we posted, the Boston Public Schools has put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) due on October 5th for K1 sites to be located in community-based preschools. The BPS’ Community Based K1 Partnership will support 5 additional K1 classrooms. Hopefully this will begin a partnership that will expand and provide additional relief to low-income families in need of access, as well as relief for community programs trying to fill slots. Simultaneous to the BPS-RFP, at the state-wide level, the department of Early Education and Care is soliciting grant applications from new and existing Universal Pre-Kindergarten programs due on October 16th. While state funding for UPK has declined steadily over the past several years, when the cost of child care is considered and weighed against the proven benefits of quality early education for high-needs children, the need for UPK is clear. UPK program standards are high and are correlated with the new EEC Quality Rating Improvement System (QRIS). All UPK grant applicants must have programs at QRIS Level 3 or above, which means a significant increase of staff with degrees among other requirements. While the EEC and BPS RFP’s provide opportunities for programs and will expand access to quality early education for high-needs children, more needs to be done at the state and federal levels to impact the high costs of quality child care in MA. Further expansion of UPK at the state level, and federal access dollars for subsidies would help mitigate the costs so that families and providers were not burdened so heavily with the impact of budget cuts to early education.
Amy O’Leary is director of Early Education for All, a campaign of Strategies for Children, an advocacy and policy organization that works to ensure that children in Massachusetts have access to high-quality early education and become proficient readers by the end of third grade. Amy joined EEA in 2002 as the early childhood field director and has also served as the Campaign’s deputy director. Prior to joining EEA, Amy worked as a preschool teacher and program director at Ellis Memorial and Eldredge House Inc. in Boston. In 2011, Amy was elected to the governing board of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. She is a member of the Children’s Defense Fund Emerging Leader Fellowship and serves on the adjunct faculty at Wheelock College in Boston. In addition, Amy presents at national, state and local conferences and provides technical assistance to advocates in other states. Amy earned a Master in Public Administration degree from the Sawyer School of Management at Suffolk University. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and early education from Skidmore College. How does your earlier work experience as a preschool teacher and program director impact your work as an early education advocate? I am extremely grateful for the experience I had at Ellis Memorial working with children and families. As a teacher and a director, I became more and more frustrated with policies that seemed to construct more barriers rather than bridges for children and families to achieve long term success. My experience at Ellis taught me what it’s like as a teacher to try to have high-quality programs, to keep up with the research on child development, and to look at the whole child connected to a family. As I transitioned into my role as advocate, I knew how critical it was to have early educators as part of thepolicy-making process because they are on the ground every day feeling the policy implications. I also understand the financing and economics of early education at a different level. Ellis served children who had state subsidies and children who were private-pay. As a Director, I saw families that didn’t qualify for subsidies by $5. I saw my staff struggle to make ends meet – as I did, too, with a starting salary of $16,000 as a preschool teacher. As an emerging advocate, I thought about impact of all this was on children, families and other staff. It became very real to me. And how does your current work as an adjunct faculty member at Wheelock influence your work as an advocate? Right now, I am a co-instructor for the Leadership Empowerment Action Project, LEAP, in Boston as part of the Gwen Morgan Certificate. I am very passionate about developing and nurturing leaders for young children. It keeps me connected to what’s happening on the ground. What has surprised you most about early education policy in MA during your ten years with SFC? There are several things that surprise me about early education policy. The first is how long and deliberate the policymaking process is. I watch the process not only as an advocate but also as someone who has had the experience of working in the field and knows how critical these policies can be.You have to be thoughtful and careful about what you’re putting into policy and regulation. I know the process is lengthy for a reason, but it can be frustrating! If I think back to when I started at the Campaign, those three year olds are now thirteen! We have a limited opportunity to have an impact on children. Think of all that we could have accomplished for those children who are now thirteen. We have made some progress, but that really puts it in perspective. I also continue to be surprised, amazed and inspired by the field. In spite of everything—the increased standards, the changing regulations, the initiatives coming down from the state and federal government, the lack of significant resources –the field continues to positively respond and work harder to make things better for young children. I’m surprised by how hard it is to sustain funding to keep dong our work as advocates for young children. And I am struck by how difficult it is to sustain momentum, not only with the public but also with policymakers and families. Keeping it a priority is surprisingly difficult. Finally, I’m surprised by the fact that we have an overwhelming body of research that tells us how important it is to invest in high-quality early education, and yet we still have so far to go. We know what to do. Although we have made some progress, this knowledge hasn’t translated into nearly enough action. Please describe SFC and the EEA Campaign–where it started and how it got where it is now. What are the campaign’s goals for 2013? We are a statewide policy and advocacy organization working to ensure that children in MA have access to high quality early education and become proficient readers by the end of third grade. The Campaign was launched in 2000 by Margaret Blood, a well-known child advocate. We have a Board of Directors and a 54-member advisory committee of leaders from early childhood, education, business, labor, health care, religion and philanthropy. Our goals for FY 2013 are to continue to advocate for increased investment in early education in the state budget, to monitor and to advance policy within the Departments of Early Education and Care, Elementary and Secondary Education, and Higher Education. We will continue to follow the implementation of the Quality Rating Improvement System (QRIS) and Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK) initiatives. We will also monitor the federal Early Learning Challenge and the Race to the Top grants. In Massachusetts, 39% of third graders are not proficient readers, according to the 2012 MCAS results released on Monday, September 17. These statewide results remain unchanged from last year. Performance on this critical benchmark has remained stagnant since 2001, when 38% of third graders scored below proficient in reading. Among children from low-income families, 60% lag in reading, a number that has not varied significantly over the past several years. As we expand our work from thinking about an entitlement for children of high quality early education to thinking about an outcome for children of third-grade reading proficiency, we’ve become more involved in supporting best practices around children’s language and literacy development. Five cities in Massachusetts – Boston, Holyoke, Pittsfield, Springfield and Worcester – applied for the National Civic League’s All-America City Award, which this year focused on third grade reading. We are working with these communities to create a learning network that will not only share and promote best practices but will also help inform statewide policy. Where do things stand in the legislature with your bill, An Act Relative to Third Grade Reading Proficiency? In 2010 we commissioned the report, “Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for Reading Success,” to start to address how to ensure that children can read proficiently by the end of third grade. The report’s recommendations inform An Act Relative to Third Grade Reading Proficiency. Senator Katherine Clark (D-Melrose) and Representative Marty Walz (D-Boston) introduced the bill in January 2011, and in July 2012, the Legislature passed it with overwhelming bipartisan support. Right now, it is on Governor Patrick’s desk. The bill would establish an Early Literacy Expert Panel to guide state agencies on research-based strategies to improve the language and literacy development of children from birth to age 9. We are very grateful for the support and leadership of Senator Clark and Representative Walz, the bill’s lead sponsors, as well as for the support and leadership of Representative Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley) and Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Boston), who co-chair the Joint Committee on Education, and of Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo. Please contact the governor and ask him to sign this bill! How do you think early education advocates can work together most effectively to address the state’s problem with improving access to quality early education? We need fearless, strategic leaders for children who understand that this is a long term commitment. We need to come together and be consistent with our message and to use research to make recommendations. We need to build relationships with legislators and other elected officials. We need to be part of the conversation and part of the solution, which may mean doing some things differently. We need to build our own skills to become good advocates and good messengers. Ultimately, we need to keep our eye on the prize and remember why we’re doing this work and what our big vision is for young children and families in the Commonwealth.
Building off our monthly Spotlight Interview blog entries, Conversations on Early Learning introduces our new monthly segment, Highlight On… In these entries, as the title suggests, we will highlight organizations that BTWIC collaborates with, whose work complements our mission.
Associated Early Care and Education has been providing child care services to children in Boston for 134 years. The first child care agency in New England, Associated continues to be on the cutting edge by offering families a comprehensive range of supportive services. Today, Associated provides care to over 1,500 children through its 6 center-based programs and over 140 family child care programs located in Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea, Revere, and Somerville. In addition to providing child care, Associated offers mental health and social services to children who need them, as well as nutritional support and education to families.They also connect with families through their Health and Wellness Blog. Like BTWIC, Associated focuses on serving high-needs children. In 1994, Associated launched the Boston Early Education Quality Improvement Project (Boston EQUIP) to gather relevant data to support efforts to improve the quality of early education in Boston. EQUIP is due to release their third Community Profiles report this December. The report is a “one-stop data reference book on the supply, demand, and quality of early care and education for the neighborhoods of Boston and the City as a whole.” In 2011, BTWIC and Boston EQUIP co-authored, An Early Educator’s Dilemma: Balancing Educational Aspirations and Student Loan Burden. By working with Boston EQUIP, we were able to survey 395 early educators throughout the state to gather data for the report. Associated’s most recent innovative project is the development of The Learning Center in Jamaica Plain’s Bromley Heath public housing development. The new center, slated to break ground this fall, will be designed from a holistic perspective that addresses the needs of children by meeting not only his/her individual needs, but also the needs of the family and community which are inextricably tied to the child. On an annual basis, the new center will provide care for 175 children, as well as job training / preparation courses for 148 adults, best practices training for 150 early educators, and workshops on parenting, financial literacy, and health/nutrition to 1,000 families. Associated is a model organization that demonstrates a consistent commitment to improving the quality of early education and care through research and programs that address the needs of Boston’s high-needs children.
“Back-to-School Time” can have multiple meanings for many early educators these days. Not only are they welcoming new groups of children into their classrooms, but many are entering new classrooms as students themselves. The Department of Early Education and Care’s new Quality Rating Improvement System (QRIS) encourages early education programs to hire teachers with college degrees, which is prompting many educators to return to school to obtain their degree in order to keep pace with this trend. A large number of early educators have been out of school for many years, so returning to school can be daunting to some. In 2005, Massachusetts created the state-funded Early Childhood Educators Scholarship to assist early educators working towards undergraduate degrees, and has awarded 5,000 scholarships since the program began. The scholarship program is critical towards reducing the financial burden for early educators committed to obtaining a degree. More information regarding the ECE Scholarship, such as who qualifies and how to apply, is available on its website. Since BTWIC began its work on early educator compensation reform following the release of our report: Blueprint for Early Educator Compensation Reform in 2010, we have distributed information to early educators on how to manage student loan debt. The Student Loan Information network is available at our website. This fall we will be releasing a new online tool, An Early Educator’s Roadmap to a College Degree,which is designed to provide additional information and guidance to early educators considering a return to school. The staff at BTWIC would like to wish good luck and perseverance to all the early educators who are heading “back to school” themselves this fall.
Por estos días,la “Horade regresar a la escuela” puede tener múltiples significados para muchos docentes de educación temprana. No solo están dando la bienvenida a nuevos grupos de niños a sus salas de clase, sino que muchos están ingresando a salas de clase siendo ellos mismos los alumnos. El nuevo Sistema de Mejoramiento de la Clasificación en Calidad (QRIS, por su sigla en inglés) del Departamento de Educación y Cuidado Temprano invita a los programas de educación temprana a contratar a profesores con grado universitario, lo que está incentivando a muchos educadores a volver a clases para obtener su grado a fin de ir a la par con esta tendencia. Un gran número de docentes de educación temprana dejaron hace años de asistir a las aulas como alumnos, así que el regreso a la escuela puede resultar amenazador para algunos. En el 2005, Massachusetts creó la Beca para Educadores de Primera Infancia (ECE) que es financiada por el estado y busca asistir a los docentes de esta etapa para obtener sus licencias de pregrado. Desde la creación del programa, se ha adjudicado 5,000 becas. El programa de becas es decisivo para reducir la carga financiera para los docentes de educación temprana comprometidos con obtener un grado académico. En este sitio web encontrará más información acerca dela beca ECE, como el perfil para calificar y cómo postular. Desde que la BTWIC comenzó a trabajar en la reforma para compensación del docente de educación temprana tras la edición de nuestro informe: Blueprint for Early Educator Compensation Reform en el 2010, hemos distribuido información a docentes de primera infancia sobre cómo administrar la deuda contraída por alumnos por créditos para pagar sus estudios. En nuestro sitio web está disponible la red de Información sobre Crédito Estudiantil. En este otoño lanzaremos una nueva herramienta en línea, An Early Educator’s Roadmap to a College Degree, diseñada para brindar información y orientación adicional a docentes de educación temprana que consideran volver a estudiar. El personal en la BTWIC quiere enviar sus mejores deseos e invita a perseverar a todos los docentes de educación temprana que regresan a clases en este otoño.