Public Hearing on Early Childhood Education

Submitted by JD Chesloff, President & CEO of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable

Chairman Lewis, Chairwoman Peisch, Members of the Committee, thank you for this opportunity to provide testimony on legislation before you today focused on early childhood education and childcare. The Massachusetts Business Roundtable – a public policy organization comprised of CEOs and Senior Executives from large employers across the Commonwealth – has been advocating for early childhood education for decades, calling it a business development issue, a workforce development issue, and a necessary component of the current and future competitiveness of the Commonwealth.

As the Roundtable recently conveyed to the Committees reviewing options for expenditure of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars, the childcare industry is in crisis and this crisis has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic:

  • Massachusetts families face the highest childcare costs in the country. According to the Center for American Progress, childcare is currently costing Massachusetts families $436 per week, or about $22,600 per year, making the system inaccessible for the very people who need it most.
  • Providers of early education and care, predominantly women and women of color, face a broken business model with increased costs, lower revenue, and monumental staffing challenges. This has resulted in 10% of programs not reopening since the pandemic began, on top of a 25% decline in programs leading up to the pandemic.
  • And employees, seeking to return to the workplace, are unable to do so because of this lack of access to care, dramatically impacting women in the workplace. In a survey of employers the Roundtable conducted with the Business Coalition for Early Childhood Education, 91% indicated concern regarding the child care and school issues facing their employees, and 76% were deeply concerned about the impacts on women in their companies. Childcare is the infrastructure necessary for people to return to work.

Given this crisis, the Roundtable is grateful for the Legislature’s support of early childhood education, and your continued focus on it today. With the federal government providing significant resources – and potentially more to come – we collectively have a unique opportunity to make system-altering and life changing impact for children, families, providers and workers across the Commonwealth. Toward that end, the Roundtable is engaging on multiple fronts, all of which could impact your deliberations on the legislation under consideration during this legislative session:

Federal Engagement. The federal government has made hundreds of millions of dollars available to the state, with the potential for significantly more in the coming months. This could be transformative, and the Roundtable, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Business Coalition for Early Childhood Education (see below), has been engaging with federal business coalitions such as CEO Action for Racial Equity, Ready Nation, the national Business Roundtable, and a national coalition of state roundtables, as well as members of our Congressional delegation to elevate childcare as an essential priority for federal investment. We also have urged the state legislative committees deliberating over the expenditure of ARPA funds to prioritize childcare, citing the impact on children, families, providers and workers – disproportionately impacting women and people of color – calling it “the infrastructure necessary for people to return to work.” For too long, funding has been an obstacle to transformative change. In the current environment, this need not be the case.

Massachusetts Business Coalition for Early Childhood Education. The Roundtable helped launch the Massachusetts Business Coalition for Early Childhood Education with the goal of making “early childhood education more accessible, affordable, and stable for Massachusetts workers, more rewarding for early childhood professionals, and a point of differentiation in attracting and retaining a strong workforce across the Commonwealth.” The Coalition is now more than 80 employers strong, collectively employing more than 265,000 people, and has the support of 19 business associations across the state. The business community is now organized to partner with policymakers and stakeholders to develop solutions to address the childcare crisis.

Early Education and Care Economic Review Commission. The Commission, created by the Legislature, is charged with reviewing “how childcare programming is funded in the commonwealth and to make recommendations for potential legislative changes in funding and related policies as the commission deems appropriate” toward its goal of “expanding access to high quality early education and care programming, which is necessary for supporting children, working families and the commonwealth’s continued economic prosperity.” The Roundtable is participating on the Commission and has great confidence in its leadership (the Chairs of this Committee), the many talented colleagues that comprise its membership, and the Commission’s ability to produce a comprehensive, impactful and actionable set of legislative recommendations that will address the current situation with an eye toward long term reform. The Roundtable will wait for the Commission to conclude its work and release recommendations before considering support for specific childcare related legislation before you today.

Common Start Coalition. The Roundtable has participated in the Common Start Coalition since its inception and shares its goal “to make high-quality early education and childcare affordable and accessible to all Massachusetts families.” The great value of this group is its diverse coalition of partners including community-based organizations, providers, parents, early educators, employers, and advocates willing to work collectively and collaboratively toward solutions. The Common Start legislation, H.605 and S.362, provides an important, long-term vision and framework to increase the affordability and quality of early education and childcare for all Massachusetts families and includes proposals, such as the establishment of “bedrock funding” to stabilize childcare providers, that are worthy of consideration. While the Roundtable is participating on the Early Education and Care Economic Review Commission and waiting for the results of that process before formally endorsing any specific proposals, we see great value in Common Start’s ideas, coalition, and advocacy.

Circumstances are aligned – like never before – for significant, game changing action on early childhood education. Coalitions have formed and are active, advocates are energized, the business community is organized and engaged, policymakers and public leaders are providing leadership and developing and implementing strategies, and once-in-a-lifetime funding is available. And, perhaps most importantly, there is a commitment among all of these efforts and stakeholders to work collaboratively toward a shared goal. That is a recipe for success.

The Roundtable respectfully urges the Committee to prioritize early childhood education and childcare for action this legislative session. We look forward to continuing to engage with you, advocates, and other stakeholders in the aforementioned ways and other opportunities to determine the most impactful path forward. Thank you for your past and continued leadership on this issue.