BOSTON (3/14/2024)—Today, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed legislation to make early education and care more accessible and affordable for families across Massachusetts.

The EARLY ED ActAn Act ensuring affordability, readiness and learning for our youth and driving economic development—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 for the state’s subsidy program and capping subsidy recipients’ childcare costs at 7 per cent of family income, and boosting compensation for educators by creating a career ladder and providing scholarships and loan forgiveness.

“Today’s passage of the EARLY ED Act marks a pivotal moment for Massachusetts families. By investing in accessible, affordable, and high-quality early education and care, we’re not just shaping the future of our youth; we’re driving economic development and ensuring equity for all,” said State Senator Michael D. Brady (D-Brockton). “This legislation is a significant investment in our children’s future and underscores our commitment to building stronger, more vibrant communities across the Commonwealth.”

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 bill would make the state’s C3 grants permanent, which provides monthly payments directly to early education and care providers. The grants, which provide monthly payments to more than 92 per cent of early education and care programs across the Commonwealth, have become a national model thanks to their success at keeping programs’ doors open during the pandemic, reducing tuition costs for families, increasing compensation for early educators, and expanding the number of childcare slots available.

The legislation improves affordability by expanding eligibility for childcare subsidies to families making up to 85 per cent of the state median income (SMI), which is $124,000 for a family of four. It eliminates cost-sharing fees for families receiving subsidies who are below the federal poverty line, and caps cost-sharing fees for all other families receiving subsidies at seven percent of their income, putting millions of dollars back into families’ pockets. Finally, the bill paves the way for expanding the subsidy program to families making up to 125 per cent SMI, or $182,000 for a family of four, when future funds become available.

The legislation provides much-needed support for educators by directing the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) to establish a career ladder with recommended salaries. This career ladder will help increase salaries in this historically underpaid field. The bill would also make scholarship and loan forgiveness programs for early educators permanent, as well as direct the state to explore more innovative ways to develop this crucial workforce.

Notably, the bill would also create an innovative public-private matching grant pilot program, which would incentivize employers to invest in new early education and care slots, with priority given to projects serving families with lower income and those who are located in childcare deserts. In addition, the bill tasks the Administration with completing a study to further analyze ways to incentivize or require employers to partner with the state to expand access to high-quality and affordable early education and care.

The bill also includes provisions that would:

  • Ensure that early education and care programs serving children with subsidies are reimbursed based on enrollment, rather than attendance, to provide financial stability to programs.
  • Require the cost-sharing fee scale for families participating in the childcare subsidy program to be updated every five years to ensure affordability for families.
  • Establish a pilot program to expand access to shared-service hubs, which would support smaller early education and care programs.
  • Increase the maximum number of children that can be served by fully-staffed large family childcare programs, aligning with states such as New York, California, Illinois, and Maryland.
  • Bar zoning ordinances from prohibiting family childcare programs in certain areas, preventing an unnecessary hurdle to the expansion of childcare slots.

“We extend our deep gratitude to our Legislature and the Department of Early Education and Care for recognizing the needs of our children and families; their commitment has helped us increase annual staff wages by more than $10,000 per person over the past 7 years,” said Justin Pasquariello, Executive Director of East Boston Social Centers. “We thank them also for recognizing much more needs to be done; we started from a very low base and many of our teaching staff remain eligible for public benefits and struggle to meet their family’s basic needs. We thank them for taking this natural next step, building on the legislature’s commitment to our field, and working toward the day when we can pay wages to enable all early educators and school age professionals, who take such good care of our children, to build careers in this field and support their families.”

“Parents and caregivers across Massachusetts desperately need a permanent commitment to affordable and accessible high-quality early education and childcare, and that’s exactly what the Senate’s bill aims to deliver. This comprehensive legislation offers an important step towards fulfilling our vision of affordable childcare options for families; significantly better pay and benefits for early educators; a permanent, stable source of funding for providers; high-quality programs and services for children; and substantial relief for businesses and our entire economy. Massachusetts has made a major down payment on this vision over the past few years, and the Senate’s bill is the next step on the path to fulfilling it,” said Deborah Fastino, Executive Director of the Coalition for Social Justice and Director of the Common Start Coalition.

Having been passed by the Senate, the legislation now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.