In 2018, 37,788 children were enrolled in Massachusetts preschool programs, an increase of 25,131 children from the prior year. According to the same report from the National Institute for Early Education Research, 10,768 3- and 4-year-olds were enrolled in special education, and 10,002 preschool children were served by federal- and state-funded Head Start programs. It is evident that, in the Northeast, the demand for qualified early childhood teachers and facilities continues to grow.
Funding Early Education in the Northeast
As these demands grow, funding for early education struggles to keep up. Eye on Early Education reported that the Massachusetts state-funded Commonwealth Preschool Partnership Initiative (CPPI) awarded grants for preschool expansion into six communities in 2019. They estimated, however, that to cover costs for 2020, the CPPI would need $30 million to sustain current CPPI grantees, expand to more communities that are ready, and sustain federally funded PEG programs.
In New York last August, Governor Cuomo announced that $15 million in funding would be available to establish Pre-K programs in high-need school districts across New York. Since 2011, the state has more than doubled funding for early childhood education in New York, where universal Pre-K is free to every family. The total is now over $800 million annually, serving 120,000 3-and 4-year-old students each year.
In December 2019, Connecticut received a nearly $27 million federal grant to further enhance the state’s early childhood development programs. This three-year award started January 1, 2020 and will help the state Office of Early Childhood design and launch better, more cost-effective systems for families in Connecticut who need programs for children from birth through five years old.
Similarly, New Hampshire received $26.8 million in a federal Preschool Development Grant to “build capacities for learning and well-being at home, in child care, and community-based settings for children from birth to age 5.”
Demand for Early Education in the Northeast
Despite this financial support, an access gap continues to exist. A 2019 report from the Boston Opportunity Agenda on the state of early education in Boston found that there was up to a 35% potential childcare access gap for children in the 0- to 5-year-old age group in 2017. The number of seats available with licensed providers was only 26,478, compared to the approximately 40,948 children in that age group in Boston.
However, the shortage of available seats is not the only factor affecting the access gap. While not all parents seek formal childcare for their preschool-aged children, many others report that they cannot afford to enroll their children in existing programs. The report found that Massachusetts is one of the most expensive states for childcare in the country, ranking second behind Washington, D.C.
This resulting affordability gap creates a financial struggle for families in the commonwealth. The percentage of families that cannot afford preschool in 15 communities in Boston ranged from just under 40% up to 85%. The state is addressing this affordability and income inequality issue by providing vouchers and contracts for early education and care. These subsidies make it possible for vulnerable families to pay for preschool and early childcare.
High Quality Programs Are Needed
Communities, along with state and local governments, are recognizing the need for and the value of high-quality programs for pre-K children. Education Dive reported on a preschool partnership between five Massachusetts school districts and community-based early-childhood programs. They found that the collaboration between the districts and the preschool centers resulted in positive impacts on the children’s early academic performance. Literacy and math skills showed strong gains, especially among children whose home language was not English.
The study prompted Boston mayor Marty Walsh to allocate $15 million last year for pre-school classrooms in schools and community-based programs. The research found evidence that providing high-quality prekindergarten programs in a mixed-delivery model benefited children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Prepare for a Career in Early Childhood Education
Worcester State University in Massachusetts offers a fully online program for educators seeking a Master of Education in Early Childhood Education degree. Graduates of this program will learn how to design, implement, and evaluate curriculum as well as appropriate assessment practices to promote development and learning in young children.
This program will prepare you for a variety of positions, including:
- Teacher, administrator or leader in a public or private preschool or childcare center
- Early childhood program specialist or curriculum expert
- Educator or administrator in a public agency such as Head Start
This affordable online program has the flexibility working professionals need when attending school and continuing to hold full-time jobs. The program consists of 34 credit hours and can be completed in as few as 14 months.