Child care is now a major political issue. Here’s how Boston mayoral candidates want to reform it


“Seeing the issue of child care at the center of public discourse is so important,” said Sarah Muncey, a Jamaican Plain mother and preschool education leader who has advocated for systemic change. – with little effect, so far. “The pandemic has shown us that this is an economic problem – that underneath it all, this buzzing city, is an invisible childcare force. We are no longer invisible.

Economic pressures from the pandemic have forced many daycares to close. Boston lost 1,371 licensed child care seats during the pandemic, a recent analysis of the Boston Opportunity Agenda find.

“The conversation is now more acute,” said Barros, who served as the town’s chief economic development officer before announcing another mayoral bid this year. “We have people who are out of the way [job] walked, not being able to go back. And it affects women more than men.

This new recognition of child care as part of the economic infrastructure has inspired efforts at state and federal levels to reform preschool education by injecting public funds into it. Advocates say public investment is needed to turn around the economy of an industry that is often prohibitively expensive for customers but barely pays its employees a living wage. President Biden has proposed massive federal relief, Rep. Katherine Clark and Senator Elizabeth Warren are pushing for reform, and a group called the Common Start Coalition has launched a campaign for the state to fund preschool education, similar to schools. K-12.

Candidates for mayor would seize these state and federal opportunities to complete what the former mayor started and go beyond. All are committed to increasing the supply of high-quality child care in the city and creating a cabinet-level early childhood office to support the city’s confusing public-private hybrid preschool system.

Here is an overview of the mayoral candidates’ proposals to reform childcare services:

Offer a free universal kindergarten + daycare

Four of the nominees want to establish a universal program that would ensure early education and care for all Boston children from birth to age 5.

Boston currently only offers free preschool to about half of the city’s 6,400 4-year-olds, either in Boston Public School classrooms or community preschools such as YMCAs that receive city funding for comparable “universal preschool” programs. The application process are separate, however, and difficult to navigate, and those who miss can pay $ 15,000 a year for preschool. (Parents pay much more for child care – on average $ 21,000 per year in Massachusetts, the second most expensive state in the nation for this age group, according to the Institute for Economic Policy.)

“We need to move away from an outdated and archaic way of thinking about families and who takes responsibility for absorbing those costs,” said General Councilor Michelle Wu. “Science shows these are the most critical developmental days and months in a child’s life.

Councilor Annissa Essaibi George said the city needs to invest in preschool education infrastructure as a public good, like other infrastructure such as roads, health care and parks.

“What we’re investing in this is a demonstration of how much we appreciate it,” Essaibi George said.

His plan builds on the success of the Common Start Coalition, which injected state and federal funds into city education proposals. The Common Start plan foresees a gradual roll-out over five years that would prioritize families with the lowest incomes and the highest needs.

“It’s not tomorrow that we’re going to flip the switch,” Essaibi George said.

Barros offers using COVID-19 recovery funds to lay the groundwork for a universal child care system for children from birth to 2 years old. Most immediately, however, he would carry out and develop Walsh’s plans for a free pre-K, guaranteeing it to all ages 3 and 4, increasing the investment from $ 15 million to $ 75 million each year.

Councilor Andrea Campbell said that during her first 100 days as mayor, she would launch a “Boston Birth to Five Initiative,” led by a member of his cabinet, who would work towards the creation of universal preschool education for all young children. She also calls for using federal stimulus funds to revive the initiative and prioritizing resources for those hardest hit by the pandemic.

“We don’t need another report to explain how critical it is to our children’s development,” Campbell said. “It is essential that families have access to early childhood and affordable child care. This system must work. And it’s not just about a child’s development. It is also important for our economy and for women to return to work.

Campbell has the endorsement of Muncey, the preschool leader, who says Campbell’s plan “for a 0-5 cohesive ecosystem is exactly the kind of big, bold thinking Boston needs.”

Acting Mayor Kim Janey, who previously worked as a community childcare organizer, is the only one of the top five candidates not to have released a detailed plan for it.

But, if she is elected to a full four-year term as mayor, Janey, like the other four candidates, said she adopt recommendations from the Birth to Eight collaboration, including expanding universal preschool, increasing the number of high-quality early years seats available to families, and support for home child care providers and educators.

Support educators and increase capacity

Recognition of the toll that the pandemic has made on caregivers and desire for equity, several candidates Childcare reform efforts aim to increase the wages of providers, who are predominantly women and mostly people of color.

“There is this perception that because you are an educator, you are simply a glorified babysitter. This is not the case, ”said Essaibi George.

Essaibi George and Wu both offer a preschool education course at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, where students could look after children from local families. Wu is also proposing to cut red tape for home day care centers, including zoning changes that would make it easier for them to open.

Campbell, who also advocates for the Common Start Coalition, said she would create recorded learning and create a talent pool to make preschool a viable long-term career path, on par with teachers in Kindergarten through the 12th grade.

Janey said she would support home child care providers and educators and noted that as interim mayor, she had invested $ 2 million in federal aid funds to support childcare initiatives. childcare and preschool learning.

Barros points out that his record helped launch the Child Care Entrepreneur Fund, which offers grants and training to home child care providers. And he proposes to make educators among the first eligible for a guaranteed minimum income program he moved for Boston.

To increase childcare capacity, Wu and Essaibi George both propose to identify land owned by the city for this use and encourage developers to create childcare spaces in new construction. Essaibi George would also offer tax breaks to early childhood education and child care providers who build new facilities.

Creation of a municipal preschool education office

The top five candidates accepted the collaborative’s recommendation to appoint a Cabinet-level assistant to take responsibility for preschool education.

Wu proposes an early childhood education and reception office that would serve as a one-stop-shop for families.

“This is a deeply personal issue for me that I have been fighting for and leading for a long time because I have seen how complicated it is to juggle being a new mom and working and navigating childcare. said Wu, who was the first city councilor to have a baby during his tenure, and whose two sons are now 6 and 4 years old.

With a user-friendly, multilingual website and a full phone line, Wu offers an office that would provide parents with real-time information about available spots in child care programs, Boston Public School preschools, and community preschool slots.

In addition to a preschool education office and Streamlining the enrollment process, Essaibi George would create a preschool education advisory committee and appoint an ombudsman to serve as contact for families.

The mother of four teenagers, Essaibi George spoke about the need to make the system more welcoming for families to navigate.

“I want families to stay in this city,” she said. “In my administration, we are going to prioritize family engagement in all of our neighborhoods and make sure families see opportunities for them to make Boston their home.”

Janey also supported the creation of an early childhood education office and suggested better coordination within the town hall.

Barros, father of four children aged 9 and under, offers a “Right Start” program to welcome new parents. Each parent registering a new Boston birth certificate would receive a welcome basket – filled with free library cards, subsidized memberships to the Boston Children’s Museum and online early learning programs, and information on how to register for preschool education.

Campbell, mother of two sons under 4, said her early years office will oversee her Birth to Five initiative and work with city partners to streamline the process for parents and serve families holistically.

“The city needs to take the lead,” Campbell said. “It must be the coordinator and the driver.”

Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @ StephanieEbbert.

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