Senator Lewis Leads Passage in State Senate of Transformative Early Education and Childcare Bill

BOSTON—State Senator Jason Lewis, the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education, led his colleagues in the Massachusetts Senate to unanimously pass the EARLY ED Act to make high-quality early education and childcare more accessible and affordable in Massachusetts.

The EARLY ED Act takes transformative steps to improve the affordability and sustainability of childcare programs by making the state’s Commonwealth Cares for Children (C3) operational grant program permanent, expanding eligibility to more families for the state’s subsidy program and capping subsidy recipients’ childcare costs at no more than 7 percent of family income, and boosting compensation for early educators by creating a career ladder and providing scholarships and loan forgiveness.

“Access to high-quality, affordable early education and childcare is essential for the healthy development of young children, as well as for the economic well-being of working families and employers in the Commonwealth,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education. “With the passage today of the EARLY ED Act, Massachusetts is demonstrating national leadership in addressing the broken early education and childcare system in our country. I’m very grateful to Senate President Karen Spilka for her passionate leadership on this issue; the Common Start coalition for their years-long advocacy to build grassroots momentum; and all the early education providers, educators, parents, and advocates who have shared their struggles, ideas, and expertise throughout the process of developing this transformative legislation.”

Massachusetts is one of the most expensive states for early education and childcare. The average annual cost of care is $21,000 for an infant; $19,000 for a toddler; and $15,000 for a pre-schooler. Many families are paying as much as 20-40% of their household income for childcare. Besides the high cost, families also face other barriers, including lack of available slots at their preferred providers, hours of available care, transportation challenges, and more.

The EARLY ED Act will address these challenges by increasing subsidy eligibility for families from 50% of State Median Income (SMI) to 85%, or from $73,000 annual income for a family of four to $124,000 annual income. Priority will continue to be given to lower-income and high needs children. The bill also paves the way for further expanding the subsidy program in stages until it reaches 125% of SMI, or $182,000 for a family of four, when future funds become available.

Parent out-of-pocket fees for subsidized children would be capped at a maximum of 7% of family household income, which is the federal recommended affordability standard. Families below the Federal Poverty Level would pay no fees. And the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) would be required to update parent fees at least every 5 years to ensure they remain affordable for families.

By extending access to high-quality education and care to families who currently lack access because of cost or availability, the bill seeks to set children up for future success and drive the Massachusetts economy forward. The legislation also improves access to high-quality care and affordability for children and families by:

  • Requiring EEC to annually evaluate and eliminate barriers to subsidy access for eligible families, and improve outreach so more families will know that they may be eligible for assistance;
  • Requiring providers who receive operational grants to enroll subsidized children, thereby increasing available options for these families; and
  • Creating a new competitive matching grant pilot program to incentivize employers, or groups of employers, to expand access to childcare for their workers. Preference would be given to proposals that prioritize families with lower incomes and those that target childcare deserts.

Early education providers also face chronic challenges with attracting and retaining early educators and other staff. The EARLY ED Act continues to stabilize early education providers, improve program quality, and further expand capacity by:

  • Making the state’s C3 operational grants, which provide monthly payments to 92% of programs in the state, permanent;
  • Requiring EEC to use an actual cost-of-quality-care methodology for setting subsidy reimbursement rates and calculating operational grants;
  • Requiring EEC to calculate subsidy rates based on quarterly enrollment rather than daily attendance of children;
  • Removing the statutory cap on the number of children that can be served by a family childcare provider, and allowing EEC to establish safe ratios as they do already for group programs;
  • Taking steps to strengthen the recruitment and pipeline of early educators in order to meet the workforce needs of providers; and
  • Barring zoning ordinances from prohibiting family childcare programs in certain areas, preventing an unnecessary hurdle to the expansion of childcare slots.

The early education workforce in Massachusetts is 92% female and 41% women of color, and in 2022, the average annual salary was $39,000. To improve compensation and benefits for early educators, the EARLY ED Act requires EEC to develop a career ladder that links educational attainment and work experience to compensation and benefits. It also supports the early education workforce by: 

  • Recommending compensation levels commensurate with public school teachers with similar credentials throughout the career ladder;
  • Enshrining into law early educator scholarship and loan forgiveness programs to provide greater access to higher education and professional development opportunities; and
  • Enabling subsidized providers to offer free or discounted seats for the children of their own staff.

Some additional strategies included in the EARLY ED Act that will further improve and strengthen early education and childcare quality, affordability, and access include:

  • Creating a Data Advisory Commission to work with EEC on expanded data collection and reporting, and the improved use of data to inform the cost and quality of care;
  • Directing EEC and the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development to study and report on ways that employers could provide more childcare support to their employees, including the feasibility of assessing employers to help fund expanded access to high-quality, affordable early education and childcare;
  • Requiring EEC to create a plan to pilot and scale shared service models that can improve the efficient delivery of high-quality care;
  • Requiring EEC to report to the legislature on ways to expand successful local partnerships, such as the Commonwealth Preschool Partnership Initiative (or CPPI); and
  • Requiring EEC and the Children’s Investment Fund to report to the legislature on ways to improve and expand the impact of the Early Education and Out of School Time Capital Fund for making improvements to early education facilities.

The EARLY ED Act is based on the recommendations made by the Special Legislative Early Education and Care Economic Review Commission, which was chaired by Senator Lewis along with Representative Alice Peisch.

The bill now heads to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for consideration.