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Legislators, Community Leaders, Stakeholders Gather to Announce Universal Pre-Kindergarten Legislation

Sen. Chang-Diaz was joined by electeds, parents, and educators to announce her universal pre-k bill.
Sen. Chang-Diaz was joined by electeds, parents, and educators to announce her universal pre-k bill.

BOSTON – Following the deadline for legislators to file bills for the 2015-2016 Legislative Session, Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz was joined by community leaders, parents, and other elected officials to announce a bill to implement universal preschool for 3- and 4-year olds in the Commonwealth.

Citing the high number of unfilled jobs in Massachusetts, the shortcomings of even the Bay State’s first-in-the-nation education system, and a return on investment for early education as high as $17-to-1, supporters urged the Legislature to take up the issue of universal pre-K this term.

“There are over 150,000 jobs going unfilled in MA due to the lack of an adequately skilled workforce. We could cut our unemployment rate by 75% today if we could fill all of those jobs employers are trying to hire for,” said Senator Chang-Díaz. “We also have a persistent achievement gap that has eluded even the best state education system in America.”

Dr. Nonie Lesaux, a professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, offered some of her research on child literacy in support of Senator Chang-Díaz’s legislation. “43 percent of our third graders are not reading at grade level, and research tells us that the third-grade marker is pivotal,” said Professor Lesaux. “Poor reading skills at third grade result in children having a drastically reduced chance of graduating from high school and compromised opportunities to develop the academic skills essential for participating fully in this knowledge-based economy.”

Chang-Díaz’s bill, currently docket number SD 1779 in the Legislature, proposes to recognize pre-school as a part of the state’s core public education system by including three- and four-year olds whose parents choose to enroll them into their district’s Chapter 70 enrollment, which is what drives state aid to local schools. Districts must provide a plan to implement high-quality early education in order to receive funding, and are encouraged to draw upon mixed, public and private delivery systems in order to scale up.

“We can’t imagine sending our twin boys to kindergarten without a solid pre-k foundation,” said Rebecca Fishbein of Jamaica Plain, who was joined by her husband, Michael Fishbein. “We know that we are among the few lucky ones who can make the cost work, and it is still a challenge. All families should have the opportunity to give their children the kind of experience our boys are getting without having to cut corners.”

The bill directs the state’s Boards of Elementary & Secondary Education and Early Education and Care to develop regulations to phase in statewide access over five years, beginning with the highest-need districts.

“Affordable and accessible early education eases stress for working parents and gives kids the best shot at decreasing the achievement gap as they age,” said Representative Liz Malia, a co-sponsor of the bill. “Universal pre-k is a worthy investment, and I look forward to making it a reality with Sen. Chang-Diaz and our friends in the legislature this session.”

City Councilor Matt O’Malley also expressed his support of universal pre-k. “Time and time again research has shown that access to preschool impacts students well beyond their education. Students with access to pre-k are less likely to drop out, more likely to attend college and increasingly well positioned to become the skilled workers that our economy so desperately needs. Providing universal pre-k will make important strides in closing our achievement gap and ensure that all students have the support they need to succeed.”

Only a few days into the Legislature’s traditional bill co-sponsorship window, SD 1779 is already co-sponsored by a wide geographic representation of legislators ranging from the Berkshires to Cape Cod.

“If we want to be serious about closing the achievement gap—and meeting both the moral and economic imperatives of the 21st Century—we need to make access to high-quality early education universal in our state,” said Senator Chang-Díaz.