Legislators urged to support universal preK and full-day kindergarten

Bonnie Page, Rebecca Cusick and Jackie Lawrence, left to right, the presidents of MTA locals in Malden, Fall River and Somerville, respectively, testified in support of a bill to provide universal publicly funded preK and full-day kindergarten. Bonnie Page, Rebecca Cusick and Jackie Lawrence, left to right, the presidents of MTA locals in Malden, Fall River and Somerville, respectively, testified in support of a bill to provide universal publicly funded preK and full-day kindergarten.

Armed with research and firsthand classroom knowledge, MTA members testified on Sept. 16 in support of a bill to create publicly funded universal prekindergarten and full-day kindergarten across the state.

“In terms of access, there is no reasonable basis on which to justify treating the programs for younger children — 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds — differently from the K- 12 programs for older children,” said Arthur MacEwan, professor emeritus in the Department of Economics and a senior research fellow at the Center for Social Policy at UMass Boston.

“There is no reasonable basis to justify treating the programs for younger children — 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds — differently from the K- 12 programs for older children.”

— Arthur MacEwan, UMass Boston professor emeritus

MacEwan spoke in support of Senate Bill 268, “An Act for Universal Early Education and Full-Day Kindergarten,” during a hearing before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education.

He told legislators that high-quality early education provides the foundation for students to become stronger learners for their whole lives. He also pointed out that providing publicly funded high-quality education for young children would make it possible for some parents to re-enter the work force.

In addition, MacEwan stressed the importance of making access truly universal.

“There is substantial evidence that while children from low-income families gain the most from early childhood education, their gain is greater in programs that are diverse in terms of the income levels of the children’s families than in programs targeted at children from low-income families,” he said.

Bonnie Page, president of the Malden Education Association; Rebecca Cusick, president of the Fall River Educators’ Association; and Jackie Lawrence, president of the Somerville Teachers Association, were on a panel supporting the bill.

“In Fall River, 55 percent of our children entering kindergarten have had no preschool experience as compared to 28 percent statewide. This means that many of our children enter the classroom for the first time with limited social experiences and greater academic needs,” Cusick said.

She told legislators the story of a parent who was unable to afford private preschool but not eligible for subsidized child care. He was desperate to find an enriching environment for his child while he worked.

“This scenario is not unusual,” Cusick said, noting the shortage of public preschool seats in her city. “These children and their families deserve the same access to preschool programs that other families have.”

Lawrence spoke about the successes she has seen in her district as preK and kindergarten programs have expanded.

“I believe this should serve as a model for all of our cities and towns,” she said. “In high-quality prekindergarten and kindergarten classrooms, students learn to be learners, explorers and citizens.”

MTA President Barbara Madeloni, who also testified in support of the bill, cautioned against any approach that would over-regulate the education process by requiring constant data collection on the Commonwealth’s youngest students.

Madeloni noted that legislators made a similar financial commitment to fund public schools when passing the Education Reform Act of 1993 and brought districts up to minimum spending levels over the span of seven years. She said that early education can be funded the same way: by making the commitment and phasing funding in over a realistic period.

The need for publicly funded universal early education is among the many reasons the MTA supports a ballot initiative to increase taxes on annual income over $1 million, with revenues going to public education and transportation, Madeloni said.

We need to refuse the myth of austerity that allows us to deny our little ones what we know they need,” she said. “Let’s work together to do this.”

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