Child care advocates call for support of early educators, families at State House hearing
Early childhood educators, child care center directors, and parents filled the State House hearing room of the Joint Committee on Public Service on October 4 in support of a bill that would improve the quality of early education throughout Massachusetts. Several panels of teachers, supporters and early childhood experts testified in favor of the proposed legislation, which would allow early educators in child care centers across Massachusetts to negotiate with the state over professional development, compensation and benefits.
Early childhood education is essential to closing the achievement gap that often separates students at a very early age. By the time children from families living below the poverty line enter kindergarten, the gap in math and reading is already present. Parents who are at work creating opportunities for themselves and their families rely on early educators to care for their children and teach them the skills they need to succeed in school.
“I’ve had three children go through preschool, and I depended on the child care centers to care for them while I was at work,” said Jessica Heaton-Mercada of Whitman, who testified at the hearing. “But the centers they attended have difficulty retaining staff. They can’t support the well-trained educators we need to teach our children.”
The proposed legislation would give the Massachusetts Early Childhood Educators Union (MECEU) the right to negotiate with the state over professional development, compensation and benefits. While the state has increased requirements and regulations for early educators, it has not contributed sufficient additional resources to recruit and retain high-quality teachers.
“I love teaching, and I enjoy watching my students grow and learn” said Margarita Weinstein, a teacher at Village Preschool in Roslindale. “Early educators are the front line in preparing children for later success in school. But without reasonable compensation, many educators cannot continue their careers, especially with student loans for professional development piling up.”
MECEU is a non-traditional union for an estimated 10,000 early childhood educators in more than 1,000 centers that either have state-funded contracts or serve children who receive state subsidies. Child child care center owners and directors are also members of MECEU.
“It’s becoming increasingly difficult to retain teachers and provide the pay and benefits they need,” said Tracy Sheerin, Assistant Director at KidZone in Pittsfield. “Unless the statewide system of early education is changed, I don’t know how much longer Massachusetts can continue to provide the high quality early education that our children deserve.”