MA state lawmakers taking up universal pre-K this session

BOSTON — State lawmakers are taking up universal pre-K this session. The first-in-the-nation plan would create a system where statewide pre-K programs would receive state and federal funding like K-12 schools.

“We moved from the San Francisco Bay area, and I was shocked to see one of the only things more expensive in the Boston area is childcare,” said Lauren Lee, an Arlington mom of two.

She estimated that her friends and she pay $1,100 to $1,900 per month for private pre-K programs for their children. And like most Bay State parents, it means robbing Peter to pay Paul to make it affordable or opting out of early education altogether.

“It means we can’t save for college. But for a lot of other families, they don’t have that privilege and they’re not able to send their children to get an equal opportunity for education,” Lee said.

State lawmakers filed a bill Tuesday that would create a universal early education system funding like K-12 schools.

“We’re proposing to build on that, and we’re proposing to use new state and federal dollars in order to increase our investment in the system so we can relieve a lot of the burden on working families,” said Winchester Senator Jason Lewis, the bill’s lead co-sponsor.

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The so-called Common Start legislation would provide childcare on a sliding scale based on income. No family would spend more than 7% of household income on childcare regardless of the number of children. State and federal funding would be paid directly to pre-school and early education providers.

“The pandemic has shone a spotlight on how critical having access to affordable, quality childcare education is, certainly for our working families and disproportionality for women and also for our employers. And that’s why […] so many of our employers [are] stepping forward and saying hey, we need to make early education and childcare a priority,” Sen. Lewis said.

Common Start would have a five-year ramp-up and cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars if passed. Critics of the legislation, including the Massachusetts Taxpayers Association, said that bill is too high especially in a post-pandemic economy.

President Eileen McAnney declined our request for an interview but pointed to her comments in The Boston Globe:

“Given current budgetary pressures, economic uncertainty and our current reliance on federal funds to balance the budget, it would be a challenging time for the state to assume these costs,” she’s quoted as saying.

The bill’s cost is also a concern for Lauren.

“Rather than putting another additional tax burden on the families who are benefiting from this, that they pay for it over their tax-life as a citizen,” Lee said.

The bill is expected to be referred to the Education Committee for review before a public hearing process.