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Hour’s Late, But Early Care Push Still Alive .: The State House News Service

Hour’s Late, But Early Care Push Still Alive

Senate Promising Proposal That Would Be "Transformative"

BOSTON, JUNE 21, 2022.....Workforce support and affordability for families will be key components of an early education and care bill set to surface soon in the Senate, top Democrats in that branch said Tuesday.

Lamenting the pandemic's drag on women's participation in the workforce and the challenges that families face in paying for and accessing care, Senate President Karen Spilka told the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce the Senate would "be releasing a bill shortly" but did not offer a specific timeline.

"This legislation, if and when fully implemented, will be transformative in expanding access to high-quality, sustainable and affordable early education and care for young children and families in Massachusetts," Spilka said, drawing applause from the crowd gathered at the InterContinental Hotel for her breakfast address. "It's overdue."

Spilka said the forthcoming bill also "recognizes that our workforce needs significant supports, through salary, and education and training."

Formal legislative sessions conclude for the year on July 31. By waiting until so late in the session to offer a plan, senators are leaving themselves with a tight timeline to produce and pass a bill and to get buy-in from their House counterparts on whatever the Senate ultimately proposes on child care.

With several major bills unresolved, the Senate president said she is "feeling very optimistic" about what lawmakers can accomplish by the end-of-session deadline.

Spilka pointed to a compromise voting reform package that's now on Gov. Charlie Baker's desk and said she is "extremely hopeful" that a comprehensive mental health reform bill can become law, now that the Senate and House have each approved their own bills.

Mental health is one of several areas where House and Senate lawmakers have both passed legislation but will need to agree on final language before sending Baker a bill, along with bills addressing energy and climate, governance at the state soldiers' homes in Chelsea and Holyoke, legalization of sports betting, the cannabis industry, and the state budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1.

Both branches infused their budgets with funding aimed at shoring up the early education and care field after the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, though they allocate the money differently.

Spilka said the Senate's fiscal 2023 spending plan "invests a record $1.13 billion -- that's $1.13 billion -- to transform the child care system," formalizes the practice of reimbursing providers based on enrollment rather than attendance, and dedicates a new $250 million to continue the Commonwealth Cares for Children, or C3, stabilization grant program for care providers.

Sen. Jason Lewis, the Senate chair of the Education Committee, said those grants, which originated during the pandemic, have been "truly transformative for the sector."

Lewis, a Winchester Democrat, said lawmakers are talking about how to make the grants permanent and about increasing subsidy reimbursement rates and "providing direct support to the workforce for things like scholarships, so that folks can get associate's degrees [or] bachelor's degrees, loan forgiveness programs and other workforce supports."

"A key part of the sector is having a workforce that is well-compensated, with the training and the professional development and the credentialing that they need, and so that will definitely be a high priority in the legislation, along with increasing affordability for families and also helping providers to be able to provide high-quality care that is sustainable," Lewis said.

Lewis and Rep. Alice Peisch, the Education Committee's House chair, led a special commission that in March reported that the early education and care system in Massachusetts does not meet the needs of many children, families and employers and issued a series of recommendations it said would require "upwards of $1.5 billion annually over time" to fully implement.

The Education Committee last month advanced a bill that Peisch and Lewis described as "a significant step forward in the multi-session implementation" of the commission's recommendations. Senate and House versions of the bill (S 2883, H 4795) are now in the custody of each branch's Ways and Means Committee.


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