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BOSTON — Last week, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed legislation to make early education and care more accessible and affordable for families across Massachusetts. The legislation now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.

The EARLY ED Act — an Act Ensuring Affordability, Readiness, and Learning for Our Youth and Driving Economic Development — takes steps to improve the affordability and sustainability of childcare programs by making the state’s Commonwealth Cares for Children (C3) operational grant program permanent, expanding eligibility for the state’s subsidy program and capping subsidy recipients’ childcare costs at 7% of family income, and boosting compensation for educators by creating a career ladder and providing scholarships and loan forgiveness.

“An equitable and competitive Commonwealth is one in which every child and family has access to affordable, quality early education,” Senate President Karen Spilka said. “At the same time, we must recognize the incredible work of the providers who are shaping the minds and hearts of our earliest learners. Today I’m proud that the Massachusetts Senate is once again taking action to lower costs for families, open up more opportunities for children, increase pay for our early educators, and make support for providers permanent so they can keep their doors open and thrive for years to come.”

State Sen. Adam Gomez added that “the EARLY ED Act creates an ecosystem where we can ensure affordable, accessible early education and care for our youth and viable career pathways for educators across the Commonwealth.”

The bill would make the state’s C3 grants permanent, providing monthly payments directly to early education and care providers. The grants, which provide monthly payments to more than 92% of early education and care programs across the Commonwealth, have become a national model thanks to their success at keeping programs’ doors open during the pandemic, reducing tuition costs for families, increasing compensation for early educators, and expanding the number of childcare slots available.

The legislation improves affordability by expanding eligibility for childcare subsidies to families making up to 85% of the state median income (SMI), which is $124,000 for a family of four. It eliminates cost-sharing fees for families receiving subsidies who are below the federal poverty line and caps cost-sharing fees for all other families receiving subsidies at 7% of their income, putting millions of dollars back into families’ pockets. Finally, the bill paves the way for expanding the subsidy program to families making up to 125% SMI, or $182,000 for a family of four, when future funds become available.

The legislation provides support for educators by directing the Department of Early Education and Care to establish a career ladder with recommended salaries. This career ladder will help increase salaries in this historically underpaid field. The bill would also make scholarship and loan-forgiveness programs for early educators permanent, as well as direct the state to explore more innovative ways to develop this workforce.

The bill would also create an innovative public-private matching grant pilot program, which would incentivize employers to invest in new early education and care slots, with priority given to projects serving families with lower income and those who are located in childcare deserts. In addition, the bill tasks the administration with completing a study to further analyze ways to incentivize or require employers to partner with the state to expand access to high-quality and affordable early education and care.

The bill also includes provisions that would:

• Ensure that early education and care programs serving children with subsidies are reimbursed based on enrollment, rather than attendance, to provide financial stability to programs;

• Require the cost-sharing fee scale for families participating in the childcare subsidy program to be updated every five years to ensure affordability for families;

• Establish a pilot program to expand access to shared-service hubs, which would support smaller early education and care programs;

• Increase the maximum number of children that can be served by fully staffed large family childcare programs, aligning with states such as New York, California, Illinois, and Maryland; and

• Bar zoning ordinances from prohibiting family childcare programs in certain areas, preventing an unnecessary hurdle to the expansion of childcare slots.