Universal childcare in Mass. comes with $5b price tag

WHEN EARLY EDUCATION advocates unveiled an ambitious proposal in February to overhaul the state’s childcare system and provide publicly subsidized universal pre-K, they were missing one major piece of the plan: its cost.

On Thursday, the liberal-leaning Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center provided a cost: $5.03 billion in new public spending to serve around 288,000 children from birth through age five.

To put that in perspective, next year’s state budget plans to spend $5.5 billion in Chapter 70 aid to fund the entire public K-12 system. The total state budget is around $47 billion.

The $5 billion figure relies on several assumptions about what universal childcare would look like. MassBudget estimates that the actual cost of a high-quality early education is $28,000 per child for a full-year, full-time program – a figure nearly double the funding that exists today for state-subsidized programs. The organization says that is the amount required to provide ample classroom space, professional teachers, and small class sizes.

It assumes a subsidy system in which childcare is provided free for families earning less than $57,800 for a family of four (eligibility would change based on state median income), and in which no families would have to pay more than 7 percent of their income for childcare.

Advocates of the plan have said it would need to be phased in over several years to mitigate the massive cost increase. But even so, the staggeringly high cost is likely to give lawmakers pause, since a $5 billion expenditure would need to come from somewhere – whether from a new revenue source or from cuts to other programs.

There are two potential new revenue sources, but both remain iffy. The first is a state “millionaires’ tax,” a proposed constitutional amendment that is working its way through the Legislature and could come before voters on the ballot in 2022.

The second is the federal government. President Biden, in his address to Congress Wednesday night, laid out an ambitious plan to vastly increase the social services provided to families, including providing universal preschool to 3- and 4-year-olds and increasing the pay of childcare workers, paid for by higher taxes on the wealthy. Colin Jones, senior policy analyst for MassBudget, told the State House News Service that if Biden’s plan passes Congress, the federal government would pay for 45 percent of the new costs in Massachusetts.

But both the millionaires’ tax and Biden’s “American Families Plan” – and the concept of universal preschool itself – are likely to face significant headwinds from policymakers concerned with the vast cost and who will be expected to pay for it.

SHIRA SCHOENBERG

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Nearly 46 years after Raymond Gaines was sent to prison for murder, a Suffolk Superior Court judge ordered his release after new evidence raised questions about his guilt, and about potential misconduct by the Boston police who investigated the case. Gaines could face a new trial, but for now he is out of jail. “It’s barbaric the way a system can brutalize a person the way it has done me and so many others across the country,” Gaines said outside court after his release. Read more.

The House approved a state budget with seven mega-amendments, with most of the legislative work taking place out of public view. Read more.

The Franklin County Sheriff’s office shut down its detention center for immigrants, saying the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency was not steering enough detainees its way. The shutdown means ICE has only two detention centers left in Massachusetts – in Bristol and Plymouth counties. Read more.

Opinion:

Paul Craney of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance tracks down campaign contributions by PACs overseen by Senate President Karen Spilka and Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr that he says could run afoul of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance’s recent “reinterpretation” of long-standing donation rules. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

BEACON HILL

The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation is asking lawmakers to delay voting on the “millionaire’s tax” since the economy is still in flux. (Salem News)

The Senate will vote Thursday on a bond bill to finance a new Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. (MassLive) 

Lots of questions are being raised about the Department of Children and Families approach to dealing with parents and children with disabilities. (Boston Globe

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Boston City Councilor and mayoral candidate Andrea Campbell is holding up the council’s disbursement of $1.2 million in grant money to the police department, saying she wants the department to address racial disparities in policing, but some are troubled by the move at a time of rising gun violence in the city. (Boston Herald

The Boston City Council passed a measure limiting the police department’s use of tear gas and rubber bullets that former mayor Marty Walsh previously vetoed. Acting Mayor Kim Janey intends to sign it, but the move may raise questions of whether she’s overstepping her authority as acting mayor. (Boston Herald

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President Biden, in his first address to a joint session of Congress, calls for a sweeping new set of federal initiatives funded largely by new taxes on the wealthy. (Washington Post

The FBI seized computers and cellphones after receiving a warrant to search Rudy Giuliani’s New York City apartment and office, “stepping up” a criminal investigation into the dealings of former president Donald Trump’s personal lawyer in Ukraine, the New York Times reported

Local Armenians say they are grateful President Biden finally recognized the genocide against Armenians. (Telegram & Gazette)

ELECTIONS

Globe columnist Joan Vennochi thinks Charlie Baker will run for a third term — probably. 

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The federal government’s chief program for producing low-income housing is facing a major threat as investors who had been expected to be satisfied with tax credits are demanding heftier returns that can only be achieved by selling units at market rates. (WBUR)

EDUCATION

A federal appeals court has turned down an effort by plaintiffs seeking an injunction to halt Boston’s switch to a new method of assigning seats at its three exam schools. (Boston Globe

Andover teachers and other school employees have been working without contracts since August. (Eagle-Tribune)

Two teacher union leaders in the state call on Michael Moriarty, a member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, to resign over comments he made at a board meeting last week suggesting troubled districts under state receivership are not able to fix themselves. (Boston Globe)

Schools are debating whether to hold proms this year, and what they will look like. (Patriot Ledger)

TRANSPORTATION

The Cape Ann Transportation Authority launches a new on-demand ride service, with an app where customers can request rides from MBTA commuter rail stations to local business centers. (Gloucester Daily Times)

A bus driver working for an MBTA contractor is accused of kidnapping and sexually assaulting a passenger who missed her stop. (WCVB)

Expect traffic delays in Boston as the Sumner Tunnel prepares for a facelift. (Eagle-Tribune)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A new study analyzes tree cover inequity nationwide. (NPR)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

MassLive takes an in-depth look at how the SJC and the Trial Court system have handled disrupted operations due to COVID-19.

A Chicopee school committee member is arrested for domestic assault, for allegedly punching his girlfriend in the face. The victim says she is asking for the charges to be dropped. (MassLive)

A 36-year-old Roxbury woman who was active on an online babysitting site has been charged with possession and distribution of child pornography. (Boston Herald

PASSINGS

New Bedford Police Sergeant Michael Cassidy dies at 52 of COVID-19. (Standard-Times)

Former astronaut Michael Collins, who remained in the Apollo 11 command module while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to walk on the moon, died at age 90. (New York Times