Mayor of Boston Marty Walsh ran for office on a platform of expanded early education. He reaffirmed his commitment to that goal in his inauguration speech. Here are a few things that Marty Walsh has said about early education:
“There is no greater equity issue than ensuring that all students start kindergarten with foundational skills and ready to learn.” (Source: Marty Walsh)
“Study after study has told us that universal early education and these other changes can be transformative. They give every child a more equal chance to thrive and succeed. Yes, these things cost money – but we must find a way.” (Source: Inaugural Speech)
“I want our next superintendent to be a proven urban education leader who shares my commitment to eliminating the achievement gap, universal early education, high school reform, inclusion programs, dual language programs a new approach to school construction, and expanded, high quality career and technical training. (Source: Inaugural Speech)
“As Mayor, I will double the number of full-day K1 seats for four-year olds in four years. I will work to ensure that every Boston Public School is a high quality school, and the road to a high quality school begins with access to a quality K1 program. I have a four-part plan for addressing this challenge.” (Source: Eye on Early Education)
The Bessie Tartt Wilson Initiative for Children is ready to work with Mayor Walsh and his Administration toward this goal of universal early education.
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For the many of us who are not financially savvy (or just went a little overboard this holiday season), the Midas Collaborative, in partnership with the Massachusetts Financial Education Collaborative (MFEC), offers a helping hand called MassSaves.
MassSaves provides links to other helpful sites and lively online explanations of topics ranging from avoiding scams to paying your mortgage. Their financial education offerings can be helpful to early childhood educators and anyone else looking to learn about personal finance. MassSaves’s member map lets residents can find non-profits in their region that deal with specific financial issues.
MassSaves offers free personal financial coaching to people who meet established income guidelines, designed to meet the needs of those who are unable because of time or geographic restrictions to travel to workshops or one-on-one counseling sessions. Remote coaching is available in multiple languages (English, Spanish, Somali, Armenian, Polish, and Portuguese) by phone, email and Skype. Most often, initial sessions are conducted by phone with follow up by email. To find a coach or a referral, go to MassSaves and click on “a live human please!”
What is Farm to School?
The “Farm to School” movement attempts to shorten the distance from earth to table, and to address health and nutritional issues as well as the economics of food supply by connecting farmers and local agricultural products with schools. Farmers can benefit from new, regional markets while educational institutions have the potential for reducing their food costs, particularly when they join forces as consumer networks. Farm to school-based curriculums often include farm field trips, school gardens, and cooking lessons.
Several initiatives in Massachusetts focus on farm to preschool. In Worcester, 29 classrooms and approximately 7000 students are participating in the Worcester Kindergarten Initiative during the 2013-14 school year. Focused on local foods and healthy eating, the project is supported by the Worcester Public Schools and funding from government and non-profit agencies. Ongoing activities include food tastings, classroom visits by local farmers, cooking demonstrations, and field trips. Students take home produce, recipes, and information about nutrition as well as occasional gift certificates to local farmers markets.
Fertile Ground, a third-party research group, is evaluating the effectiveness of the Worcester Kindergarten Initiative. Their report on the 2012-13 school year they found that 88% of the 450 children could distinguish between “anytime” food and “sometimes” food, could construct a balanced meal when presented with healthy and unhealthy options, and knew that strawberries and apples are grown locally. 87% of the preschool teachers were pleased with the program and found it relatively easy to integrate into the curriculum; 100% were pleased with the program’s wholesome snacks. Farm to Preschool will continue to be an important component of the early childhood nutrition discussion.
Let Sesame Street tell you about “anytime” and “sometimes” foods!
State support for early childhood education, slightly stronger than it was in 2011, is still weaker than it was in 2001, according to a comprehensive report from the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), a Washington-based non-profit committed to protecting and expanding opportunities for women and girls. Pivot Point: State Child Care Assistance Policies 2013, issued this October, covers the year that began in February 2012.
The researchers considered those variables that determine how much assistance low-income families can receive for child care: income eligibility limits, waiting lists, copayments required of parents receiving child care assistance, reimbursement rates for child care providers serving families receiving child care assistance, and eligibility for child care assistance for parents searching for a job.
Massachusetts was one of the more generous states in determining income eligibility limits for child care assistance in 2012.
A family of three in MA is eligible with an income up to 216% of the poverty level, or $42,096 annually, which is 50% of the state’s median income. Other states’ rates range from 117% to 298% of the poverty level. Massachusetts is exceeded only by Florida in the number of children it has on its waiting list: 51,792. Most states have no waiting list; only five list more than 10,000 children.
The copayment for child care required of Massachusetts parents has increased substantially since 2001. A Massachusetts family of three with an income 150% of poverty level paid 9% of their income for child care in 2001; today, they pay 11% of their income or $271 monthly. A family of three with an income 100% of poverty level paid 3% of their income in 2001; today they pay 9% of their income or $141 monthly. Other states’ copayments range from 0% to 15% of income.
Only two states reimbursed child care providers at 75% of market rate in 2012: New York and North Dakota. The 75% rate, recommended but not required by the federal government, means that three-quarters of all early education facilities in a given area are affordable to children and their families. Reimbursement rates in Massachusetts are between the 3rd and 31st percentile of market rates for center-based care and between the 3rd and 43rd percentile for family child care.
Higher reimbursement rates generally result in higher salaries for child educators. Better pay attracts more highly skilled workers, increases retention of those workers, and rewards training. Starting with our Blueprint for Early Education Compensation Reform in 2010, the Bessie Tartt Wilson Initiative for Children (BTWIC) has been researching ways to improve compensation for educators and other providers of early childhood education. Measures developed by BTWIC include tax incentives, a professional career ladder that is keyed to educational attainment, and an interactive Roadmap to a College Education that helps users explore educational options.
Parents who lose a job or are searching for work in Massachusetts can receive up to two months’ child care assistance, among the more generous of the states’ subsidies for parents in these circumstances. Having child care in place frees an unemployed parent to do an intensive job search and, if successful, to start work right away. Most states do continue to provide child care when a parent loses a job. Only fifteen states allow families to qualify for child care during a job search; most of these offer fewer than two months.
The Pivot Point report’s authors, Karen Schulman and Helen Blank, NWLC Senior Policy Analyst and NWLC Director of Child Care and Early Learning respectively, voice qualified optimism about the upward trend in support for early childhood education, particularly in light of the Obama administration’s embrace of its importance. Until the economy appears to have stabilized for the long term, however, it will be difficult for anyone to foresee future support for early childhood education.