We must invest in early education and care
2023 state budget provides opportunity to address crucial needs in system
WITH COSTS OF LIVING increasing, it is stressful having to choose between filling up your gas tank, buying enough food to feed your family, or paying for housing. It seems impossible to set money aside to pay for college or think big picture when immediate needs take priority. For a long time, this balancing act has been a significant barrier for families with young children, and childcare providers alike, looking to build a future.
The COVID-19 crisis compounded the existing gaps in accessibility to affordable childcare and shined a spotlight on the foundational ties that childcare has to our workforce and the larger economy. The lack of affordable childcare is keeping qualified employees, particularly women out of work. Many working-class parents simply do not have the bandwidth to work full time and watch their children, which can be a full-time role in of itself. In my district, 9 percent of family childcare and 6 percent of early education centers have permanently closed since the beginning of the pandemic and there is a direct correlation between the lack of childcare options and the current labor shortage.
This situation is made even worse by the inequity of the state’s childcare offerings as an industry. With too little pay and the huge responsibility of caring for the Commonwealth’s children, teachers and childcare providers are leaving the profession with no one being incentivized to take their place. The added stressors of the pandemic, long hours, and remote learning have only made early education less appealing as a profession. This creates gaps in availability, largely in the communities that are in the most need.
Rightly, the childcare crisis has grabbed the attention of the Legislature, but our attention is not enough. We need action. If we wait, we leave tens of thousands of children on the waitlist for financial vouchers. We lose billions of dollars of income for families and childcare teachers. We let the small businesses that provide us childcare fail, and we add additional pressure on taxpayers to make up the cost of failing to provide and support families.
I am encouraged by the passing of the FY23 House Budget, which includes significant funding to increase the salary rate reserve for providers who accept childcare subsidies, as well as resources to assist families with finding programs that fit their needs. Clearly, my colleagues also recognize the dire situation that we are in. Additionally, I am sponsoring the Common Start bill alongside Sen. Jason Lewis and Reps. Adrian Madaro and Kenneth Gordon. This bill would scale up the state’s investment in childcare to allow for the re-envisioning of a childcare system that is high quality and supportive of providers, teachers, and families at all levels. No family should have to pay more than they can afford for childcare, and no teacher should feel that their labor is undervalued.When a mother loses the choice to work or a family must go into debt in order to care for their children, our system has failed them. When a child loses an opportunity for early childhood or after school education, our system has failed them. When a small business owner can’t open because their employees cannot return to work due to childcare responsibilities, our system has failed them. Our childcare system is failing us in all of these ways. We must act now to make the changes required to support families in the Commonwealth.
Susan Moran is a Democratic state senator from Falmouth.