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(The Center Square) – Lawmakers on Beacon Hill are working to expand access for early childhood education and childcare subsidies, along with pay raises for the state’s teachers.

State lawmakers on Beacon Hill are intent on overhauling the state’s early childhood education and child care initiatives to expand opportunities to more middle-income families. They plan to do this through raising income limits for subsidies as the legislative session is winding down. Teacher pay reforms are also on the radar.

Senate Bill 2997 passed with a 40-0 vote on July 7, and the bill is now in the hands of the House of Representatives’ Ways & Means Committee.

The cost of providing ECE is similar to that of K-12, however, parents shoulder up to 60% of the burden and sometimes more, according to Amanda Storth, president of the Massachusetts Association for the Education of Young Children.

“It's clear that there needs to be some intermediate there,” Storth told The Center Square. “The equation just doesn't really work.”

Experts assert early childhood education is proven to have major impacts on a child’s development, from the transition to grade school through to high school and beyond. Studies have linked ECE to high school graduation rates, college entry, and even long-term earning potential, according to Storth.

“The outcome of having access to ECE is really extremely positive for children,” she said.

Another outcome, which Storth said is important, is ECE's role in keeping parents in the workforce, especially mothers.

“For the people of Massachusetts, one of the pressing lifestyle needs that people have is addressing access to early childhood education,” Storth said.

Bay State families are spending up to 22% of income on child care. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports for child care to be considered affordable, it should take no more than 7% of a family’s income.

The new bill would increase the range of income limitations for receiving a subsidy from 50% to 80% of the state's median income, which Storth said would make a big impact.

Storth hopes the final bill addresses the true cost of providing quality ECE, particularly when it comes to teacher pay.

“ECE is no different from most other fields, in that we’ve really struggled with a workforce retention crisis over the past through the years, and educators are the linchpins in classrooms,” she said. “So, I think any action we do in this space needs to prioritize meeting the needs of educators.”

Leadership in both the Joint Committee on Education and the Department of Early Education and Care have sent strong signals that this is a priority, Storth said.