Bill Analysis: An Act to expand access to high-quality, affordable early education and care
The following is a summary of a bill that was considered in the previous legislative session in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. As conversations about early childhood policy continue within the legislature, it is helpful to understand some of the key components of potential legislation by examining a recent bill in detail. For that reason, the Rennie Center has analyzed the text of the bill, along with the wide-reaching effects it could have on various stakeholders in the early education and care space, to inform ongoing decision-making.
The bill (H. 4975) described below was informed by the agenda of the Common Start Coalition, which aims to provide families, students, early educators, and providers with fiscal and physical support to reduce barriers to providing and accessing high-quality early childhood education.
You can find definitions of terms commonly used in this bill and in early education and care at large in the Glossary of the new Early Childhood 101 website.
How would families with young children be impacted by the bill?
Availability of Subsidies (Section 5)
The bill would update the early education and care subsidy program, expanding eligibility to a much broader range of families than are eligible to receive them now. The current system allows families at 50% of the Massachusetts State Median Income (SMI)--or 85% for families with a child/children with documented disability–to apply for child care financial assistance from the state. Under the bill, all families earning at or below 85% of the SMI would become eligible to access subsidized early education and care. However, in the event that there are not enough state funds to provide a subsidy for all eligible recipients, families who currently receive a subsidy would be prioritized to receive available funding before families with incomes between 50% and 85% of SMI. The bill also allows stipend eligibility to be extended to families earning up to 125% of SMI, in the event of an increase in federal funding for this purpose. Families would not have their subsidies reduced, terminated, or denied, so long as they remain eligible and/or have an income below the given threshold (though there is an appeal process families can utilize). The subsidy program would be reviewed at least annually to continue to identify and remove barriers to high-quality early child care.
Revision of Fee Scale and Subsidy Amount (Section 3)
The bill calls for the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) to establish a schedule by which they will 1) revise the rate structure for voucher payments to subsidized child care providers, and 2) update a sliding fee scale for participating families. In this way, both the subsidy amounts and fee scale would be revised over time to keep pace with rising costs of living and inflation.
How would early childhood education and care providers be impacted by the bill?
Operational Grants (Section 6)
Under the bill, EEC would establish and distribute operational grants that can be used by child care providers, with the goal of providing higher-quality early education. Some of the potential uses include reducing tuition and fees and providing scholarships for families, improving facilities and physical spaces, and providing voluntary wraparound services for children and families such as social work, health and disability services, and parent/caregiver support. So long as providers comply with contractual agreements with EEC, enroll children with subsidies into their programs, pay staff and faculty EEC-recommended salaries, and provide data to EEC for assessment and reporting, providers would continue to receive these annual grants. The formula for determining grant amounts would consider factors like enrollment numbers and ages, location of the provider and availability of care in the area, demographics of the children and families served (e.g., children with high needs, race, and ethnicity), the cost of care, and more.
Determination of the Cost of High-Quality Early Child Care (Section 13)
The bill calls for EEC to establish a methodology with which they could calculate (and regularly update) the total cost of high-quality early child care in Massachusetts. The methodology will include various aspects of an early childhood education provider’s experience, such as pay and professional development for staff, facility rent and classroom/office supplies, educational toys and nutritious meals for children, and any additional services for children and families with high needs (e.g., staff training, interpreter services, and family engagement). This methodology would be used to determine both the subsidy reimbursement rates for families and the operational grant amounts for providers. The methodology would annually increase at the rate of inflation, and would be reassessed and adjusted no less than once every five years.
How would early childhood educators be impacted by the bill?
Scholarship and Loan Forgiveness (Section 6)
The bill would have EEC establish a scholarship program for early childhood educators who are pursuing their Associate or Bachelor degrees. The scholarship would be used to cover tuition and related fees (at minimum, one full semester at a community college), as well as child care expenses so the recipient can attend classes and meetings. Eligible recipients must be current or prospective early childhood educators employed in early education and care programs in Massachusetts who reflect the diversity of the state, show a commitment to the field, and commit to teaching in early education for a term of service after graduating. The bill also calls for the board to establish a loan forgiveness program for early education and care educators, particularly those who show a commitment to early education and care and serve predominantly high-needs communities or areas with a shortage of slots. Section 11 of the bill outlines that EEC would need to submit a report to the legislature on the design of these programs prior to implementing them.
Operational Grants (Section 6)
As described in the section above on providers, the bill requires EEC to establish and distribute operational grants, which could be used to benefit early childhood educators. Potential grant uses include increased salaries, benefits, bonuses, professional development, and opportunities for educators to continue pursuing higher education.
How would policymakers be impacted by the bill?
This section specifically outlines the policies of the bill for policymakers to gain a better understanding of 1) the system as it currently stands, and 2) proposed changes that could improve the system and directions for future policy change.
Data Reporting and Analysis to Develop New/Expand Existing Programming
- The bill calls for the annual collection of data from early education and care providers. Data includes, but is not limited to: the number of employees by race and ethnicity, pay rates and employer-paid benefits, tuition rates for part- and full-time services by age group, and the numbers of children enrolled by age group, family income range, race, ethnicity, country of origin, and preferred language. (Section 4)
- The bill would also require EEC to report to the Massachusetts legislature on the cost and use of all the subsidies and funding the department gave to early education programs, subsidy application information, and provider employment data. This report would be made publicly available on the Department of Early Education and Care website. (Section 6)
- The data collection outlined in the bill would be used to assess trends in the supply and unmet needs of families eligible for early childcare subsidies. To ensure equity, EEC would also take into account factors that may prevent families from getting or using subsidies, such as transportation challenges and the need for services outside of standard hours. (Section 12)
- The bill calls for state departments to file reports on a number of potential future policy changes, including the feasibility of requiring employer-based child care benefits (Section 7), expanding local partnerships offering a mix of school- and community-based early education care options (Section 8), and increasing capital funding for early education providers (Section 9).
- In order to improve the pipeline for hiring early childhood educators, section 10 of this bill calls for EEC, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, and the Commonwealth Corporation to jointly report on how to enhance the early education workforce pipeline to meet the needs of providers and children across the state. The report would include recommendations on how to recruit and retain new early educators, and will push for non-traditional models like an apprenticeship program (Section 10). The bill also calls for EEC to develop a career ladder report to provide increased transparency and opportunities for early childhood educators, including by laying out minimum recommended salaries and benefits for each level of the career ladder. (Section 14)
For more information on conversations surrounding early childhood education and care, check out the Common Start Coalition website as well as the Early Childhood 101 website. These resources provide more information about early childhood education and care policy developments and ways to take action.