Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick today announced a bold proposal to provide universal access to high-quality early education for the state’s young children. It is part of his plan to invest almost $350 million in early education over four years, starting with $131 million in fiscal year 2014. In addition, Governor Patrick proposed changes to the state’s Chapter 70 school funding to encourage more school districts to offer pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds.
Overall, the governor proposed a $550 million education package for FY14 that also includes K-12 and higher education. The proposed education expenditures would rise to nearly $1 billion annually over the next four years. The governor’s proposals come after funding for the state’s Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) has declined by more than $80 million since FY09.
“This is about creating opportunity and economic growth,” Patrick said in a news release. “If we are going to accelerate our growth and create opportunity, we must invest. This is not only about the students’ social and economic future. It is about ours.”
In today’s announcement at the Orchard Gardens K-8 School in Boston, the governor linked the proposed new investments in high-quality early education with a desire to improve children’s reading ability in third grade, an educational benchmark that strongly predicts their chances of success in school and beyond. Performance in third grade reading on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System has remained virtually stagnant since 2001. “Today in Massachusetts, only 61% of third graders, 38% of African-American third graders and 36% of Hispanic third graders are proficient in English Language Arts,” the governor noted in his prepared remarks.
“Unless we ensure that all children have access to high-quality learning opportunities in their earliest years, when learning and achievement gaps begin to form, we will never reach our goal of all children reading proficiently by grade three. This is not only about their social and economic future. It’s about ours,” Patrick said. “That is why I am proposing that we fully fund the early education programs in our state. We must ensure that every child in Massachusetts has access to high-quality learning opportunities in their earliest years, when achievement gaps begin to form. We know from academic research, from years of public policy and from our own experience as parents that investing in our children at a young age pays huge dividends for them and for our community as a whole. To those who say we cannot afford this, I challenge you to show me which 4-year-old you think we should not invest in.”
The governor’s proposal will:
Eliminate EEC’s wait list, which currently stands at almost 30,000 children from birth to age 5, and provide “universal access to high-quality early education for all infants, toddlers and preschoolers in Massachusetts.”
Expand initiatives to improve program quality through the state’s Quality Rating and Improvement System, and to support the professional development of early educators.
Promote family engagement by increasing programs and supports.
Expand comprehensive support services for children and families.
Governor Patrick also seeks to “dedicate new Chapter 70 funding to incentivize more school districts to offer preschool to their 4-year-olds,” the news release states. Currently, Chapter 70 reimburses districts for the preschoolers with special needs that they serve in inclusive classrooms. Under the governor’s proposal, all preschool students would be counted in districts’ Chapter 70 calculations.
Carolyn Lyons, president and CEO of Strategies for Children, issued the following statement:
“We applaud Governor Patrick for taking a bold step toward closing the achievement gap and securing the commonwealth’s future economic vitality by calling for substantial new investments in high-quality early education and care. Research clearly demonstrates the lasting short- and long-term positive impact of high-quality early education – on everything from reduced grade retention and special needs placements to improved school readiness, high school graduation, college attendance, adult earnings and health. With funding for early education and care down more than $80 million since fiscal year 2009, we urge the Legislature to support these critical new investments in young children. Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman calls investing in high-quality early education “America’s best economic stimulus package.” Statewide, 39% of Massachusetts third graders scored below proficient in reading on the 2012 MCAS, and performance has been stagnant since 2001. We will not close the achievement gap unless we target resources to our youngest learners, starting at birth.”