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Testimony in support of bill to provide affordable and accessible high quality early education and care

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On Tuesday, November 23, 2021, the Joint Committee on Education of the Massachusetts Legislature heard testimony about H.605 and S.362: An Act providing affordable and accessible high quality early education and care to promote child development and well-being and support the economy in the Commonwealth. Anne Douglass, PhD, Professor of Early Care and Education at UMass Boston and the founding executive director of the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation submitted the following written testimony in support of the bill.

October 28, 2021

JOINT COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION

TESTIMONY OF Anne Douglass, PhD, Professor of Early Care and Education at UMass Boston and founding executive director of the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation at UMass Boston, in support of H.605 and S.362: An Act providing affordable and accessible high quality early education and care to promote child development and well-being and support the economy in the Commonwealth

Dear House Chair Alice Peisch and Senate Chair Jason Lewis,

Please accept my testimony in support of “An Act providing affordable and accessible high quality early education and care to promote child development and well-being and support the economy in the Commonwealth.”

Launched in 2016, the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation (Early Ed Leadership Institute) is a university-wide initiative housed in the College of Education and Human Development at UMass Boston. It was created in response to the success and rapid growth of our first early educator entrepreneurial leadership development programs that were piloted in 2012 through a $1.5 million grant from the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care. Through its many programs, the Early Ed Leadership Institute provides entrepreneurial leadership training and a leadership network to equip the racially and linguistically diverse early education workforce to lead and innovate for change and quality improvement in their practice, program, and in the field. It conducts cutting-edge research on early education leadership and innovation and leads efforts to build an ecosystem for leadership and quality improvement in the early care and education sector. Since its founding, the Early Ed Leadership Institute has generated millions of dollars in external grant funding for research and training and already boasts over 500 graduates of its various programs in Massachusetts and beyond.

The Early Ed Leadership Institute is staffed by people with years of experience working as educators and administrators within ECE settings and systems. As such, we have a wealth of knowledge, expertise, and insight about early education that is not available to those who work outside the field. All of my academic research, writing, speaking, and instruction is informed by a prior twenty-year career in urban early care and education as a teacher, administrator, family child care owner and educator, and quality improvement coach.

The most significant areas of focus for graduates of our programs is a set of barriers to high quality ECE: the persistent problem of low wages, unstable and uneven financing for programs, and inadequate and inequitable compensation for those who do the life-changing work of caring for and educating our youngest children.

The infusion of public investment in ECE that would result from passage of “An Act providing affordable and accessible high quality early education and care to promote child development and well-being and support the economy in the Commonwealth” is urgently needed.

In 2020, the Early Ed Leadership Institute published the Massachusetts Early Education and Care Workforce Study 2019 Key Findings. These findings are drawn from a representative sample of the ECE workforce in MA that had a total of 1,356 respondents. Information was collected through a survey that was fielded during the summer of 2019. There were 75 questions on the survey focusing on employment, compensation, financial status, educational attainment, professional development, and demographic characteristics of the respondents.

Because this survey was conducted just months before early care and education programs in Massachusetts were suspended in response to COVID-19, it offers a detailed pre-pandemic snapshot of the early ed workforce that can serve as a point of comparison in understanding the impact of the pandemic on the sector. These findings clearly show that returning to pre-pandemic ways of financing ECE is not an option.

The good news from the workforce survey is that ECE is populated with creative professionals with deep experience in the field. Over half of family child care providers and nearly 70 percent of center directors have been working in the field for more than 16 years. These educators deeply value the contributions that their colleagues make to their programs, practice, and the field. Nearly 90 percent of center directors said that their “unique skills [were] valued and utilized at work” and 83 percent of center educators reported the same.

Early educators are also invested in improving their practice, skills, and knowledge: Fifty-eight percent of center directors and more than one-third of family child care providers and center educators reported that they wanted to earn a degree or attain a higher one if they already had a degree. A vast majority (94% of center directors, 87% of family child care providers, and 73.5% of center educators) routinely engage in professional development and learning activities.

But even before the pandemic, few early educators had access to two essential elements of quality child care work environments: paid planning time and consistency in classroom staffing/teaching teams.

Paid planning time when not teaching children is important because it enables educators to plan curriculum, assess child learning and development, engage in and lead quality improvement activities, and engage in ongoing professional learning. Center educators surveyed reported limited or no paid planning time in their workweek when they are not responsible for supervising children. Nearly half (49%) reported no planning time while 47% have three hours a week or less. Only 3% have 4 to 6 hours a week, and 1% reported having seven or more hours of paid planning time each week. For those working in family child care, four out of five FCC providers (81%) reported no paid planning time.

Consistent staffing of classrooms by a regular team of educators is also important for quality and consistency of care and instruction. Our survey found that 67% of center educators reported having to work in a different classroom or a with a different group of children at least once in the prior four weeks. Most center directors reported that at times they worked in classrooms to cover staff shortages, with only 26% of Center Directors responding that they “never” provided classroom teaching coverage.

Far more alarming, however, were the pre-pandemic rates of financial, housing, and food insecurity reported by the early education workforce. Over 40 percent of center educators and one-quarter of family child care providers report that they do not have enough money for food. Over half of center directors and family child care providers and two-thirds of center educators worry about their ability to pay their monthly bills. Nearly half from each group worry about paying for health care, losing pay due to illness, and being taking time off to care for family. About one-third of center educators receive at least one government benefit, compared to 16 percent of center directors, and 36 percent of family child care providers. MassHealth/Medicaid is most frequently accessed benefits, both for members of the workforce and for their children. Other public benefits that the workforce is accessing, according to our survey, include: SNAP/EBT, housing, fuel, and WIC.

Our survey found that child care center directors earn an average of $53,934 annually. For context, the K-12 equivalent of a center director is a school principal. In Massachusetts, the median annual salary for a public school principal is about $118,000. Family child care providers earn about $46,488 a year and early educators working in child care centers earn about $32,323. Again, for context, the median annual salary for a public school teacher in Massachusetts is $64,000.

As for benefits, only 63 percent of center directors and 61 percent of center educators were offered health insurance by their employers. Only 29 percent of center educators are offered flexible spending accounts for dependent care and/or health expenses.

We also found significant racial disparities in employment. For example, among the directors of child care centers, who are the most highly paid in the field, only five percent identify as Hispanic/Latinx, four percent identify as Black or African American, and one percent identify as Asian. By contrast, among people who teach at those centers and who work as Family Child Care providers, nearly half identify as Hispanic/Latinx, 22 percent identify as Black or African American, and nine percent as Asian.

This pre-pandemic baseline describes a workforce system in crisis.

We know from recent headlines that things have only gotten worse.

Cultivating and retaining a skilled ECE workforce was difficult before the pandemic. So much so that in 2017, leadership in the House and Senate released reports urging greater private and public investment in the early care and education workforce. Both reports observed correctly that ECE program quality is directly tied to the cultivation and retention of an experienced ECE workforce.

The work of ECE educators and directors is complex and requires ongoing training to deliver high-quality programming. A child’s experience with early care and education influences their future academic achievement, level of education, income, and health.

In this context, it’s clear that our collective future depends on our ability to cultivate a highly skilled ECE workforce. The investments to be made by passage of “An Act providing affordable and accessible high quality early education and care to promote child development and well-being and support the economy in the Commonwealth” cannot come soon enough.

 

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