EEA  
Early Education for All

             
   
 

 

Over the last few weeks, school districts across Massachusetts have worked on their draft reopening plans with a deadline of August 10 to release the plans for the fall. There have been parent surveys, guidance from the state, school committee meetings and reviews of the science and research about children and COVID. All of this activity seems to be centered on answering one big question, “What will happen with the reopening of schools?”

We need to be asking a bigger question,  “What will happen with children and families and all the systems they rely on for support?”

We know that parent demand, employer decisions, and public Pre-K–12 education reopening will impact the short- and long-term future of child care. Over the last five months we have been inundated with real stories of people facing food and housing insecurity, patchwork child care arrangements that have been created so parents can continue to work, remote learning and screen time, and the fear, anxiety, worry, uncertainty, need for answers and accurate information, and all of the “what ifs?” for September. 

We are seeing this all happen in real time as hundreds of child care programs are closing across the state. The health crisis has highlighted so many inequities in so many of our systems and has also raised broad, concrete awareness of how critical and integral the early education and care sector is to our economy, the well-being of children and families and the future of this Commonwealth.   

Operating on razor-thin margins even before the pandemic, center-based, family child care, and afterschool providers in the Commonwealth are now facing even greater and longer-lasting challenges. The sector is being decimated by pandemic-required reduced enrollment capacity, increased cleaning and PPE costs, and educator shortages. Cutbacks in services to families, funding instability, and widespread layoffs of staff are also adversely impacting our economic recovery. Worse yet, the damage to the workforce has a disparate impact on women and especially women of color who overwhelmingly serve in this critical, but underappreciated and underpaid role.

Along with many other leaders, Clare Higgins, the former Mayor of Northampton, MA and current Executive Director of Community Action Pioneer Valley, recently testified at the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Education Oversight Hearing on the Status of Early Education and Care in the Commonwealth during the COVID-19 emergency. 

In her testimony Clare said, "Schools are child care providers, and child care providers are educators…it's a false dichotomy." 

We tend to talk about these two parts of the education system as separate. In reality, both parts care and educate children. The last few months have made that clear. We tend to talk about these two parts of the education system as separate. In reality, the decisions made will have implications for everyone – children, families, communities, employers. We need an unprecedented level of intentional and thoughtful collaboration, alignment and sharing of resources at the state and local level. In our Collective Statement on Racial Justice, we called on all our elected officials at the federal, state and local level to examine policies, funding and practices with regard to race and racial disparities.

In that spirit, we offer the following recommendations:

  • We are calling for a joint meeting of the Boards of Early Education and Care and Elementary and Secondary Education to further discuss intentional collaboration and decision making. We know there are no easy answers about the fall – but we need to be thinking though scenarios together. We will also need the same discussions and problem solving at the local level with parents, superintendents, school committees, early education and school age providers. There are so many logistics to think through in any of the plans being considered. 
  • We need to have local data systems designed to collect real time supply and demand for children birth – school age that can be used to determine how to best serve children and families in this ever changing environment. We cannot have hybrid models to keep children separate at schools and then have all children attend school age programs all together. We need to think differently as needs and solutions may differ regionally. We need to better understand what is needed, what programs are available and how we can close those gaps. We need to know which programs are closing and what they need to stay open. 
  • We need to change funding models. It is not to sustainable to fund based on enrollment, per-child / per-day. Imagine if we tried to run a transportation system based on the per rider fare alone. It does not work. We need cost-based financing. 
  • We need to think differently about state funding – in labor, education, nutrition, housing, health – to address the many parts of early education and care. Providers should be considered essential workforce going forward to provide them advantages others have like access to testing, small business and non profit support that state might be catalyzing / offering. 
  • We need to build out technical assistance for programs – financing, business planning, shared services, support for legal and human resources.  COVID-19 has revealed that child care has little-to-no infrastructure to support these functions.

Hearing the real life, day-to-day challenges has helped inform our advocacy. Provider and parent experiences need to inform decisions and policy-making for September and the months ahead.

We will rely on the innovation, creativity and can-do attitude of the early education and care community. But that will not be enough.

We will need to develop solutions and advocate together for significant additional resources and support. 

Our children are counting on us.

Amy 

 

 
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