Healey signs executive order for ‘universal, high-quality Pre-K access’ for gateway cities

MALDEN, Mass. — Gov. Maura Healey on Tuesday signed an executive order directing a “whole-of-government approach to child care” that provides “universal, high-quality preschool access” to children in all gateway cities.

The aim is to make early education and child care “more affordable and accessible for all families across Massachusetts,” Healey said in a statement ahead of her planned State of the Commonwealth address on Wednesday. She will propose the funding in her Fiscal Year 2025 budget next week.

The “whole of government approach” to child care “will bring together teams from housing, child care, education, economic development, workforce development, health care and human services to work in partnership with the business community to develop new, and innovative strategies to expand access, build new facilities and reduce costs for families,” Healey said.

“State agencies will pay particular attention to the need for workforce training and apprenticeships, and will review employer tax credits or other incentives for offering or assisting with employee child care,” Healey said.

The “Gateway to Pre-K” agenda includes four key components, according to Healey:

  • Delivering universal, high-quality preschool access for four-year-olds in all Gateway Cities by the end of 2026. Every family of a 4-year-old in these 26 communities will have the opportunity – at a low or no cost -- to enroll their child in a high-quality preschool program that prepares them for kindergarten.
  • Increasing Child Fare Financial Assistance (CCFA) eligibility from 50 percent of the state median income (SMI) to 85 percent SMI to help an additional 4,000 low-and moderate-income families afford care.
  • Continuing Commonwealth Cares for Children (C3) grants in FY25, providing stable funding for programs to improve quality, pay facility costs, and hire more staff, thereby creating more classrooms where families can enroll their children in affordable child care.

“Our ‘Gateway to Pre-K’ agenda will fundamentally transform the early education system in Massachusetts. We’re lowering costs for families to enroll their children in child care and Pre-K and ensuring our hardworking providers have the support they need to deliver high-quality care,” Healey said in her statement. “Far too many parents are being held back from returning to the workforce because of the daunting cost of child care, and providers are facing the difficult decision between continuing in the profession they love or leaving for a higher-paid career. Our budget proposal will help to relieve those pressures by expanding high-quality Pre-K access, delivering more financial assistance to thousands more families, and sustaining our historic investments in C3 grants to providers.”

Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll said in a statement, “As Governor Healey and I travel around the state, we hear about the high cost of child care and the impact that is having on families and business. We have made many positive strides in year one, and we are taking even bigger and bolder action in the next few years so that regardless of zip code or economic background, our youngest learners can access the high-quality education they need to succeed in school and beyond, while also supporting our local economy and communities.”

The Department of Early Education and Care currently administers the Commonwealth Preschool Partnership Initiative, which establishes a district–wide preschool program across classes in public and community-based early education and care programs, officials said.

“As a result, every 4-year-old receives equitable access to high quality preschool, while ensuring families have multiple provider options to choose from,” Healey’s statement stated. “This levels the playing field for kindergarten readiness across the district, establishing coordinated curriculum and similar goals regardless of where a child is enrolled.”

Commonwealth Preschool Partnership Initiative funding also provides scholarships to participating families to enroll at no or low cost and enables full day/full year services through the mix of public and community classrooms, officials said. Further, the funding “promotes equitable access to special education to ensure full inclusion of children with disabilities through the least restrictive settings.”

Commonwealth Preschool Partnership Initiative funding is currently in 12 Gateway Cities (Brockton, Fall River, Haverhill, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Malden, New Bedford, Salem, Springfield and Westfield).

Through investments in the FY25 budget, the administration is proposing to expand Commonwealth Preschool Partnership Initiative funding into the 14 remaining Gateway Cities over the next two years, officials said.

Healey announced her Gateway to Pre-K agenda in Malden, which officials called an example of a Gateway City that has benefited from Commonwealth Preschool Partnership Initiative funding. The program there partners with Malden Public Schools, Malden Early Education and Learning Program, Cheverus Catholic School, Little Love Bugs Daycare, My Best Friends Child Care, and Malden YMCA. Through CPPI, Malden has standardized the use of a high-quality preschool curriculum that integrates evidence-based practices in early literacy, as well as coordinates and intentionally aligns policies, assessments, and professional development.

Although the CPPI program is relatively new, Malden leaders said they have already noticed a significant impact.

“CPPI has made a meaningful difference in our district - developing partnerships between school districts and local early education programs provides an equal playing field so that every preschooler in our community is on the same plan and has access to the same resources and materials. I am excited to see this program expand into more programs and communities, and I want to thank Governor Healey and the Administration for making this important announcement in our community,” Malden Mayor Gary Christenson said in a statement.

Massachusetts’ child care financial assistance programs help families pay for early education and care programs by covering all or a percentage of the cost of care based on their income. Current initial eligibility is at or below 50 percent state median income, meaning families earning less than $49,467 annually for a family of two and $61,106 for a family of three. Federal rules allow states to go up to 85 percent state median income.

By increasing eligibility to 85 percent state median income, more low-and moderate-income families, including staff working in education and care programs, get help paying for care, state officials said. That means families earning less than annually $84,094 for a family of two and $103,880 for a family of three will now be eligible for help paying for care.

“We know that child care and preschool are critical for the success of our early learners, and provide an essential backbone to our economy by supporting working parents. Our ‘Gateway to Pre-K’ approach is more of an educational prerogative—it’s an economic imperative,” Secretary of Education Patrick Tutwiler said in a statement.

Read Tuesday’s executive order.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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