by Michelle Haimowitz, MPA student
While some public policy investments may eventually pay for themselves in savings, few public investments provide as much of a return on investment as early childhood education. For every dollar invested in high-quality early childhood education, local economies receive at least $7 in return. Returns are not only found in educational achievements such as high school graduation rates, but in higher lifetime earnings, reduced teen pregnancy rates, and reduced incarceration rates among graduates of high-quality early learning programs.
Unfortunately, early childhood education does not receive as much public investment as the research shows it should. High-quality early education is dependent on the workforce and teachers in the classroom. However, lack of public investment leads to extreme rates of educator turnover – roughly 30% each year – which impedes children’s ability to learn in a consistent environment. Early childhood educators are paid just a fraction of what their peers in public elementary classrooms make, despite often having the same degrees and credentials. In fact, 59 percent of all Head Start teachers in Massachusetts hold bachelor’s degrees. Yet the average child care worker in Massachusetts makes less than $30,000 per year, less than half of what the average kindergarten teacher makes. This doesn’t just put our children at a disadvantage, but costs the state enormously – nearly 40% of the early childhood workforce in Massachusetts receives some form of public assistance, at a cost of $35.6 million to the state and federal governments.
This crisis is not impossible to solve; the answer is increased state investment in the early childhood education workforce. This year, Massachusetts is in a unique position with new State House leaders at the head of their respective chamber’s Committee on Ways and Means, the key budget writing committee. Representative Aaron Michlewitz and Senator Michael Rodrigues are both in the position to write their first budget, setting priorities for their tenures in these positions and guiding the legislature in determining state investments. Both Senator Rodrigues and Representative Michlewitz now have the opportunity to write a budget that invests in the field and the workforce that we know shows long-term returns to our state – early childhood education. These State House leaders can choose to spend state resources on early educators now rather than spending later in public assistance for those working with our youngest learners. If significant investments are made in early education quality and access – including investments to the Early Educator Rate Reserve, the Head Start State Supplemental Grant, and the Commonwealth Preschool Partnership Initiative – Massachusetts’ children, educators, and economy will be strengthened.
 Douglass, A. (2017, July 18). Massachusetts early education programs are in peril. The Boston Globe. Retrieved from https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2017/07/18/massachusetts-early-education-programs-are-peril/rlyXHYwkYEKJz66kOtOi5J/story.html?event=event12
 Massachusetts Head Start Association. (2018). 2018 Annual Report. Retrieved from https://wwwmassheadstart.files.wordpress.com/2019/01/mhsa-anual-report-2018-online-version.pdf
 United States Department of Education. (2016, June 14). Fact Sheet: Troubling Pay Gap for Early Childhood Teachers. Retrieved from https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/fact-sheet-troubling-pay-gap-early-childhood-teachers
 Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California, Berkeley. (2016). Early Childhood Workforce Index 2016: Massachusetts. Retrieved from http://cscce.berkeley.edu/files/2016/Index-2016-Massachusetts.pdf