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MA Leaders Rally for Early Education and Care

Today’s article from the Boston Globe seems to hiMA_kidst the right note: “legislators and corporate leaders are working together to increase quality of and access to early education and care”. BTWIC thanks House Speaker Robert DeLeo for being a true champion, harnessing the power of Boston’s strong business sector on behalf of young children across the Commonwealth. We have long held that early education and care is a community issue, one that affects all tiers of the economy, and it is heartening to see this work being done.

The attached graphic, and much of the article itself, focuses on children ages 3 to 5 – “Pre-K”, as it is formally known. Even the annual cost of a private-pay program (quoted as $12,800), is Child Care Aware‘s average figure for four-year-olds. An infant in care runs a family just over $17,000/year, for comparison.

Indeed, brain science has shown that rapid development occurs in the first months and years after birth, up to 700 new neural connections each second, largely through a “serve and return” process of interaction with a primary caregiver. This interaction is so important that, by 24 months old, disparities in vocabulary can become apparent among children from families of varying income.

Speaker DeLeo has heard this message, and understands the need for a quality workforce to support the healthy growth and development of young children of all ages, from all backgrounds. We are fortunate that the field has such a strong leader in the Massachusetts legislature.

National CACFP Week!

ETL_FINAL_COVER-smIt is National CACFP Week, a time to raise awareness of how the USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program works to combat hunger and bring healthy foods to underserved populations. Our work with CACFP has focused on early education settings, but the program also serves adults in care.

The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) is designed to help providers serve nutritious food to children and adults, reimbursing providers for qualified meals and snacks that they serve while offering training, technical assistance, and program oversight. While researching our 2015 “Eating to Learn” report, we discovered that this program is underutilized in Massachusetts. Statewide, approximately 220,000 children are enrolled in early childhood education and out-of-school programs, many of them spending over 8 hours per day in care. This program is a crucial source of nutrition because many children receive the majority of their daily meals and snacks while in care. For our report on CACFP in MA early education and care settings, click here.

The poster below was produced by the National CACFP Sponsors Organization, a national organization for sponsors who administer the USDA CACFP. Please feel free to download and share with those you know!

2016_National_CACFP_Week_AD_-_poster

For more information on National CACFP Week, click here.

Early Education on Boston’s North Shore

56bbc3a2f1598.imageAs of December 2015, according to an article by Carl Gustin and Tom Zarrella’s op-ed in the Salem News, “Just 38 percent of 3 year olds and 66 percent of 4 year olds in the United States are in some kind of preschool, which ranks the United States only 32nd out of 39 countries in the Organization for Economic Development.” This low rate of enrollment is especially disconcerting given that “The most comprehensive study of preschool effectiveness, judged over 40 years, demonstrated that children who attend preschool were more likely to graduate from high school, get better paying jobs, and be less likely to get in trouble with the law.” Additionally, “The study found that a $15,000 investment in a preschool student produced savings of $220,000 in avoided welfare and other social spending.”

Gustin again came to our attention last week, having penned a keen op-ed for the Gloucester Times. We took to Twitter:

The quotes were so universal – we hear the same stories here in Boston and across the state:

And the reason for these early education teacher vacancies seems to always be the same:

Unfortunately for everyone,

We were pleased, most of all, to see that our convesation drew the attention of others:

Let’s keep the conversation going – online and in-person – early education and care is too important to leave behind.

Carl Gustin and Tom Zarella are on the Board of Directors of Pathways for Children.

Comments on the State CCDF Plan

While demand for spots in high-quality centers is on the rise, the number of operating child care businesses has declined. Many centers cannot afford to pay their staff a living wage, and their staff are the foundation to quality. 37% of educators are on some form of public assistance, and the result is a turnover rate near 30%. It is the most vulnerable of our children who are impacted. We see an opportunity to expand and enhance quality as Massachusetts submits its upcoming Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) State plan.

From the National Center for Children in Poverty: “CCDF subsidies assist low-income families with the cost of child care so that they may work or prepare for employment. Assistance is provided in the form of either a contracted child care slot or a voucher that may be used to access care by any provider that meets state requirements.”

The federal government recommends that states reimburse providers at the 75th percentile, but rates in Massachusetts have remained substantially lower than that.

On January 15, the Put MA Kids First Coalition submitted a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care with comments on the state plan. In it, we urged the Department to:

Raise base reimbursement rates,
Guarantee continuity of care for all children receiving subsidies for a minimum of 12 months,
Provide lingustically competent information to individuals with limited English proficiency.

We believe that implementing these changes would have a powerful impact on outcomes for children across the Commonwealth.

Click here to read the letter.

Great work by PMKF – much more to be done!

We are excited that our Put MA Kids First coalition is gaining so much momentum – this recent blog entry on the intersection of educational achievement and income inequity (the much-publicized “advantage gap”) is one prime example. While reading, we were reminded us of this article on the Huffington Post, written last April. It covers a remarkable study which demonstrated physical differences between the brains of children from high- and low-income families, with disparity most evident at the lower end of the curve. One big takeaway:

“If we could somehow enrich the environments of particularly the poorer children, we might be able to change that trajectory to equalize it, to some extent.”
– Dr. Elizabeth Sowell, Director of the Developmental Cognitive Neuroimaging Laboratory at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles

For our original blog post on the subject, click here.

“Fade Out”: What is the real truth?

in October, Vanderbilt University released a study on outcomes from Tennessee’s voluntary Pre-K program, which serves mainly at-risk children from low-income households. The results caused quite a stir, as they seemed to suggest that gains made in Pre-K “fade out” by the end of 1st grade.Dan Walters’ article in the Sacramento Bee offered this interpretation:

“…the efforts devoted to raising the academic achievement of low-income children went for naught. Other factors, such as poverty and familial and peer influences, prevailed.”

But is that the real truth? There is a vast evidence base which suggests otherwise – that QUALITY early education, done right, can have a transformative effect on young learners, particularly those from non-English-speaking or low-income households. But what is “quality”? How is it measured? And how does it fit into the larger education pipeline?

Serve-ReturnSome researchers divide quality of an early education program into two segments: process quality (children’s immediate experiences) and structural quality (environmental factors, like teacher : student ratios). Both aspects speak to a warm, safe environment where “serve and return” features are evident. “Serve and return” is the back-and-forth conversational exchange of sounds, words, or ideas between a young child and a caregiver. These interactions are crucial to building brain circuitry from birth forward.

Central to these aspects of quality is a large factor to be considered – the preparedness of the educator. Studies show that educators perform better when they are 1) equitably paid and 2) given opportunities for professional development – not so different than any other industry. With in-classroom support, both teacher and student will thrive.

In a recent New York Times article, the Vanderbilt study’s co-author said:

“Tennessee doesn’t have a coherent vision. Left to their own devices, each teacher is inventing pre-K on her own.”

The article goes on to cite positive student-level outcomes from Boston and New Jersey’s public preschool classrooms, where experiential learning is emphasized and early educators receive mentoring and coaching. Results from Tennessee point less to the question of whether pre-k is beneficial for young children and more to the question of how to ensure quality education throughout the educational continuum so that benefits can be sustained.

“Eating to Learn” Report – Released!

BTWIC-CACFP-ReportWe were so pleased with the turnout at our “Eating to Learn” reception last night. The report examined participation in the Child and Adult Care Food Program in early education settings across the state. The event was attended by a wonderful group of supporters, along with Chef Barbara Lynch. She spoke with ease about her time growing up in Boston and her belief in the importance of “real food” for kids. We are honored that she took time out of her busy schedule to spend the evening with us.

Our presentation of findings highlighted key facts from the report, for example, that there are as many as 242 Center-Based early education and care programs in Gateway cities across Massachusetts that do NOT particpate in CACFP – this represents a total of 5,000 (or more) children that are not being served by the program.

For more on the report, read the Boston Globe article, or head straight over to our website
! We hope you find it informative, and we would appreciate your sharing it widely.

The High Cost of Early Education for Caregivers

Child Care Aware recently released a fact sheet that compares key metrics on early education and care in the state of Massachusetts as related to numbers for the nation as a whole. Some indicators seem positive. WAPO_State_Rental_CostFor example, the average yearly wage for an early educator in Massachusetts is approximately $25,890, several thousand dollars greater than the national average. However, as the Washington Post recently reported, a worker would need to earn more than twice that amount simply to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Massachusetts, as the cost of living is among the highest in the nation.

The majority of the early education and care workforce is comprised of women, a little more than a quarter of whom are unmarried with children of their own. For this demographic – single mothers – income spent on child care is an unfathomable 63%. Married couples pay about 15% of their income. In fact, you could buy a new car with what you pay for one year of full-time care for an infant, or, as the fact sheet indicates, pay for 1.7 years of college.

Indeed, the picture for early education and care in Massachusetts is not rosy. We must expand not only access to child care, but also quality and affordability – both for the workers and the children. Studies demonstrate that children benefit from having a consistent caregiver. If compensation remains so low, and child care so unaffordable, it will continue to become untenable for skilled workers to remain in the field. We heard one such story on Early Education and Care Day at the State House, back in April, when Kiara Barros shared her story with more than 500 supporters. How many more stories like hers are out there?

Push for the House Budget

It is now budget season in Massachusetts, and the House Ways & Means has released their first pass. The Department of Early Education and Care is currently earmarked to receive:

  • $5 million for a Quality Care Rate Reserve for early education providers, to support and attract the highest quality educators,
  • an additional $3 million for the Quality Rating and Improvement System, to support and enhance the quality of care being delivered, and
  • $5 million for new child care vouchers, which would move over 800 children off the waiting list.

These numbers are a good start, but we must work to do more. According to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, years of “level funding” (funding a department or initiative at the previous year’s level, without adjusting for inflation) has effectively reduced the state’s contribution to the Department of Early Education and Care by 50%, or over $100 million, between 2001 and 2012.

There are two budget amendments that we at BTWIC,  along with our colleagues in the Put MA Kids First coalition, are supporting. The first is Amendment #579, offered by Representative Scibak of South Hadley. This amendment deals with the Early Education and School Age Rate Reserve, increasing the total amount to $15.2M. The second is Amendment #1069, offered by Representative Danielle W. Gregoire of Marlboro, which calls to increase the total allocation to $21M dollars while increasing the QRIS earmark to $4M. Rep. Gregoire has also called for clarifying language regarding a variety of improvement measures in the Quality Rating and Improvement System.

Please take action today – call your legislator and urge them to cosponsor these two amendments on behalf of the children of our Commonwealth and the educators who support them. If you need assistance finding your legislator, visit https://malegislature.gov/People/Search. Speaker DeLeo needs ALL of us to help him Put MA Kids First!

Serve and Return: Early Childhood Education and the Developing Brain

We were not entirely surprised by the results of a recent study on income inequality and brain function, but the message is startling.

Harvard Center on the Developing Child tells us that in the first years of life, 700 neural connections are formed every second. Those connections work to make up who we are and how we interact with the world. The brain’s capacity for change slows as we age – this is why grown adults have to work harder to learn a new language – but during the early years, a “serve and return” model governs this rapid growth. Children require interaction with attentive caregivers, and seek it out through their actions (babbling, facial expressions, etc). If a caregiver responds appropriately, a positive connection is formed. If the child is reacted to in a negative way, or simply ignored, the connection is disrupted.

In families experiencing daily stress, such as stress related to living in poverty, children are at risk for developmental delays—delays that can manifest as early as 9 months of age and can impact academic achievement and behavior through adulthood. Since most of the human brain is formed during the first three years of life, high-quality care is a “must” from the very beginning of life, and we must do better to deliver it.

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