Early childhood education at inflection point

Structural change needed; time for action is now

THIS WEEK, the Massachusetts Legislature heard about a number of bills focused on early childhood education and care, including two of my own bills dealing with universal (H550) and full-day kindergarten (HJ549) and one that I’ve cosponsored focused on early education (H605).

When I first filed my two bills more than a decade ago, there was a growing movement among early childhood advocates pushing for similar policies focused on increasing teacher pay as well as affordability and accessibility for all families seeking childcare. Over the past several years, additional data, research, and testimonies affirm the critical importance of high-quality early childhood education and care in optimizing development of our children, providing care for families, and supporting and building robust economies.

However, we have seen little movement on Beacon Hill when it comes to solving the early education and care crisis. As a result, we have a shrinking underpaid workforce, childcare deserts, long wait-lists, and caregivers paying more for childcare than for housing. The crises facing the early education and care sector require structural change, bolstered by the state and local and statewide business communities. The time for action is now.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic crisis have exacerbated the inequities within the early childhood education sector. We are at an inflection point. The federal response to the pandemic through the American Rescue Plan Act provides a tangible, once-in-a-generation opportunity for the state to finally invest in early childhood education infrastructure to effect substantial, lasting improvements and systemic change.

Robust public funding is required to re-build and re-imagine a high quality, affordable, and accessible early childhood education system, one that includes full-day compulsory kindergarten, universal pre-K, and universal early education and care beginning with infancy.

Research indicates 90 percent of a child’s brain growth occurs before the age of five, before a child even walks through the door of a public school. Thus, we must support children and families in those early years, when it matters most.

I will continue to fight for this legislation on Beacon Hill, and I urge my colleagues to join me in making early childhood education and care one of the top priorities for investment as we strategize rebuilding our economies and communities in equitable and inclusive ways. The return for our society is clear — research reveals a 13 percent return on investment when children from birth to age five have access to high quality early education and care. Early childhood education is in the best interest of the state, the best interest of working families, but most importantly, the best interest of the child. It is simply the right thing to do.

Meet the Author
The bills that sit before the Massachusetts Legislature reflect those insights, strategies, and solutions for the early childhood education sector. It is time for the Massachusetts Legislature to seize this moment and solidify the state’s role as a leader on education, starting from the moment a child is born. We must hold ourselves accountable to our commitment to equity and inclusion as we build back better and stronger, understanding that the foundation begins with investing in our children. Investment in universal early childhood education provides every child with a healthy start in life, allows parents/caregivers to return to the workforce, and simultaneously ensures the success of the entire Commonwealth for generations to come.

Antonio F. D. Cabral is a state representative from New Bedford.