By Julie Bolduc
In 1888, Lucy Wheelock established the first Kindergarten teacher preparation program in the city of Boston. At its core was the belief that opportunities for early learning are integral to the lifelong wellness of children, families and communities. Now, 125 years later, that program and its philosophy serves as the basis for what has developed into Wheelock College-a private institution with a public mission to improve the lives of children and families. Without a doubt, Lucy Wheelock was a pioneering thinker of her time and her legacy continues to shape the public domain today, with the expansion of early education currently under consideration by both state and federal lawmakers.
President Obama’s recent move to make early childhood learning a childhood imperative came as unspeakable joy to the countless early education teachers and advocates who have fought for expansion over the decades. With proven science in hand, advocates have and will continue to demonstrate that the earliest years of a child’s life are the most significant in his or her human development. Over 90 percent of the brain is constructed and the road map for future social, emotional and physical development takes form through interactive relationships. While there is always opportunity for resilience, research shows that addressing delays in development early increases the chances for improved outcomes. In fact, quality early childhood is one of the few social policy interventions that have proven to really work, in terms of both long-term educational and human development outcomes as well as economic benefits to society. This is why President Obama and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick proposed key investments in early childhood education in their FY14 budgets.
President Obama’s early education proposals represent the largest expansion of early learning since Head Start was established. Under the President’s plan, $750 million would be allocated to a new federal-state partnership, called “Pre-school for All,” to create and expand early education slots for low to moderate income children at 4 years old. Pre-school Develop Grants in the amount of $750 million are designated in the President’s budget to provide incentives for states to expand early education opportunities to middle class children as well as create state policies around full-day kindergarten. Congress now has a chance to consider and adopt the President’s proposals, and should. Investing in early education now will save in future social costs later, yielding an estimated return of 16% that can be spent elsewhere or saved all together.
Massachusetts is half way through the budget process, which means a set of actions have (or have not) been taken on this matter by two bodies – the Governor and Massachusetts House of Representatives. As you will recall, Governor Patrick released his FY14 budget proposal in January, 2013. The plan proposed landmark investments in early education, increasing funding by $131 million in the next fiscal year. The House Ways & Means Committee released its budget recommendations in April, with the MA House of Representatives finalizing the chamber’s FY14 proposal that same month. Unfortunately, the plan does not include the Governor’s proposals and cuts the early education budget by about $11 million from FY13. The House’s actions to decrease or level fund early education related line items are in the chart below. In addition to cuts, the House budget allocates $350,000 to fund a new Office of Compliance Management that will be responsible for auditing EEC going forward.
*From the Massachusetts Budget & Policy Center
While the House budget is disappointing to early education advocates, teachers and families across the Commonwealth that fought long and hard for expansion, there is still some reason to be optimistic. The House’s action is just one step in a process that lasts through June. The House budget has now been sent to the Senate. The Senate Ways and Means Committee will release its budget in mid-May, and debate will take place in the full Senate shortly thereafter. Both branches will then appoint a Conference Committee to negotiate the differences between both budgets before sending a joint proposal to the Governor for his signature or veto. In other words, there is still time to influence the process by contacting your Senator. The Senate has an opportunity to make investments that support what science tells us and what Lucy Wheelock told us over a century ago: “the greatest cause that can be served is childhood education.”
This cause-our youngest children-cannot wait another 5, 10, 25 or more years for action on knowledge at our fingers tips for the past 125.
Julie Bolduc is a graduate student at Boston College Graduate School of Social Work. She previously served as a Massachusetts state lobbyist at Charles Group Consulting, representing nonprofit organizations, associations and groups whose public policy and budget priorities serve the public good. As the Director of Grassroots Advocacy for Horizons for Homeless Children, Julie developed and launched “the Campaign for Young Homeless Children” in 2011. She began her career as an associate at the Dewey Square Group’s Washington DC and Boston offices, managing grassroots campaigns. She currently works in Wheelock College’s Office of Government & External Affairs.