For many families, the cost of child care and early education is unaffordable. This leads to a crisis on several fronts. Parents, overwhelmingly women, have to leave the workforce, with Black and multiracial parents experiencing child care and work disruptions at a rate of twice that of white parents. This drives family incomes down, impacting our state’s economy. Children miss out on the learning environments, structure and stability they need to be prepared for success in their educational futures, leading to further widening of the achievement gap, wage gap and health care disparities.
The Common Start legislation, H.605 (filed by Massachusetts Reps. Kenneth Gordon and Adrian Madaro), and S.362 (filed by Sens. Jason Lewis and Susan Moran), would change all this by establishing a system of universal affordable, high-quality early education and child care for all Massachusetts families. Under this new system, Common Start would provide funding for early education programming and care for children from birth through age 5. It would also fund after- and out-of-school time for children ages 5-12, and through age 15 for children with special needs. There would be an incremental rollout over 5 years, prioritizing the lowest-income, highest-need families. Low-income families would be able to access care for free, and families above that threshold would pay no more than 7% of their total household income.
In the first paragraph of the Shema, a daily prayer of affirmation in Judaism, we are told to impress God’s commands “upon your children” (Deut. 6:7). From this sentence, we derive that parents are responsible for educating the next generation.
Our tradition also values making a concerted effort to educate our most vulnerable children. The Talmud (Taanit 24a) relays the story of a person whose prayers for rain were answered immediately. This was very surprising because the community had already asked for rain in numerous ways, but was not successful. Assuming that the immediate rain in response to the person’s prayers must have been a reflection of the person’s honor, Rav asks, “What are your good deeds?” In response, the man says, “I am a teacher of children, and I teach the Bible to the children of the poor as to the children of the rich, and if there is anyone who cannot pay, I do not take anything from them.” If we take this to mean that learning should be made accessible to all, this necessitates ensuring equal access to affordable, high-quality early education and child care.
JALSA is on the strategy team of the Common Start Coalition, which includes child care providers, parents, early educators, advocates and community, labor, business and faith-based groups.
On Tuesday, Jan. 25, from 6:30-8 p.m., the Coalition is inviting people to attend a virtual roundtable to discuss this legislative priority. You will be able to hear directly from educators, child care providers, parents and other experts about the current state of early education in the commonwealth, and to learn about the efforts being made to pass the Common Start Bill. RSVP here.
And if you’d like to join a Common Start regional chapter team to work more closely on this issue with others in your community, just let us know so we can connect you with your chapter lead. If you want more information about this issue or want to work with JALSA on putting our Jewish values into action, contact JALSA legislative director David Albright at email@example.com or 617-227-3000.
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