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Gateway to Pre-K: What Parents and Educators Need to Know

Friday, February 16, 2024

The "Gateway to Pre-K" agenda is designed to "fundamentally transform" early education in Massachusetts. But how exactly?

At Edward Street, we're excited about Gateway to Pre-K — and today, we're breaking down the agenda and explaining what it means for parents and educators.

What Is the Gateway to Pre-K Agenda?

On January 16, 2024, Governor Maura Healey introduced the "Gateway to Pre-K" agenda to help make early education and childcare more affordable and accessible to families across the Commonwealth. The agenda consists of four components:

1. Providing Universal, High Quality Preschool Access to 4-Year-Olds in All Gateway Cities by the End of 2026

Gateway Cities refer to "midsize urban centers that anchor regional economies" in Massachusetts, according to MassINC.

Gateway to Pre-K will help these cities provide high quality preschool programs to 4-year-olds by the end of 2026. It'll do so through the Commonwealth Preschool Partnership Initiative (CPPI), which the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) uses to create district–wide preschool programs. 

With CPPI, Gateway Cities can: 

  • Provide families with access to best-in-class preschool programs;
  • Coordinate curricula and goals throughout a district's preschool programs; and
  • Offer scholarships to help families enroll their kids in full-day or full-year services.

Worcester is one of 26 Gateway Cities in the Commonwealth. It's also one of 14 Gateway Cities where CPPI is not currently available.

With Gateway to Pre-K, Healy will expand CPPI into all Gateway Cities over the next two years.

All children deserve to start out life with the same access to quality education. But where a child grows up can limit their access to the best educational programs. This can significantly impact the trajectory of a child's life.

Gateway to Pre-K will level the playing field for kindergarten readiness in Worcester and other Gateway Cities. It promotes equitable access to education, setting up kids in these cities for long-lasting success.

Meanwhile, Edward Street is working with community-based early education providers and Worcester Public Schools to design a mixed-delivery system that creates options for families and advances the highest quality early learning foundation for every child in Worcester.

teacher teaching with a mask on with students

Together with Superintendent Rachel H. Monárrez and her administration, we're evaluating CCPI with Worcester Public Schools and how it can be used to support their future needs.

2. Increasing Childcare Financial Assistance (CCFA) Program Eligibility

Families in Worcester and other Massachusetts cities and towns can use CCFA to cover the cost of childcare and out-of-school time programs.

To qualify for CCFA, a family must be at or below 50% of the state median income (SMI). As of February 2024, this means a family of two must earn less than $49,467 per year to be eligible. A family of three must earn less than $61,106 annually.

By raising CCFA eligibility to 85% SMI, a family of two can earn up to $84,094 to qualify for CCFA. A family of three can earn up to $103,880 to be eligible for help paying for care. 

Research suggests childcare costs are shrinking household incomes and savings. As many families look for ways to cover these expenses, it's increasingly important for lawmakers to explore every possible solution to help them out.

Gateway to Pre-K lowers CCFA income requirements for families in Central Massachusetts and its surrounding communities, expanding the program's eligibility. This could help more families pay their childcare costs and provide their kids with more opportunities to learn, grow, and thrive.

3. Continuing Commonwealth Cares for Children (C3) Grants in FY25

Early education and care providers use C3 grants to offset their day-to-day operational and workforce costs, including:

  • Staff salaries
  • Talent recruitment
  • Education and care initiatives

In August 2023, Healy approved a $56 billion FY24 budget that included $475 million in C3 grants.

Early education and care programs can be expensive for providers and families in Central Mass.

teacher with mask on and students coloring

Many early education and care providers struggle to deliver quality services without stretching their staff too thin. To offer these services, providers may have to pay staff less than what they actually deserve or increase their prices.

Parents want the best early education and care services for their kids. But the costs of these services are constantly rising, and many parents are struggling to keep pace.

C3 grants fill a critical gap for early education and care providers, since they provide funding that helps cover some of the operating costs of early education and care programs.

By offering C3 grants in FY25, early education and care providers can continue to get help to fund their programs and deliver top-of-the-line services and support, without passing their costs onto families.

4. Signing an Executive Order to Take a 'Whole-of-Government Approach' to childcare

According to Healy's executive order, a "whole-of-government approach" encompasses "all aspects of life in Massachusetts."

 With this approach, government teams will work together across sectors to optimize childcare in the Bay State. These teams will come from many areas, including:

  • Economic development
  • Education
  • Health and human services
  • Housing
  • Workforce development

Additionally, these teams will collaborate with members of the business community in Worcester and other cities and towns to:

  • Expand access to childcare;
  • Build new childcare facilities; and
  • Look for ways to reduce childcare costs for families.

The whole-of-government approach also involves other state agencies, which will explore workforce training and apprenticeships and employer tax credits and other incentives for employee childcare.

What Does the Gateway to Pre-K Agenda Mean for Parents and Educators?

It's critical that big changes happen in the Massachusetts childcare and early education system, — and Gateway to Pre-K could have a transformative impact where it's desperately needed.

Reasons why Massachusetts parents, educators, and many others support the agenda include:

  • More Low- or No-Cost Preschool Options: Provides $38.7 million to expand low- or no-cost preschool options for 4-year-olds to all Gateway Cities.
  • More Financial Aid: Helps an additional 4,000 low- and moderate-income families pay for childcare.
  • More Help for Childcare Providers: Helps these providers improve the quality of their programs, pay facility costs, hire staff, and create more classrooms.

"Gateway to Pre-K is a monumental step forward in the state’s commitment to ensuring all children have a high quality preschool experience in their communities," ​said Kim Davenport, Edward Street's Vice President of Initiatives & Aligned Programs. "This sets the foundation for success. Early childhood success is lifelong success."

How to Show Your Support for the Gateway to Pre-K Agenda

We're excited about Gateway to Pre-K — are you? If so, here are ways to show your support:

  • Share what you know. Tell parents, educators, and others about the agenda and what it means for children and families here in Central MA.
  • Stay up to date. Follow us on Facebook, and LinkedIn for updates on Gateway to Pre-K and to get the latest early childhood news.
  • Contact your local and state representatives. Ask lawmakers in your community to support Gateway to Pre-K in the FY25 budget.

We're proud to support Gateway to Pre-K. This promise to our youngest learners is an investment in the human capacity, leadership, and active citizens of our future. It's a step forward in promoting early childhood success for every child.

Our team will continue to provide updates on Gateway to Pre-K and other educational initiatives and programs for families in Worcester and its surrounding communities.

Edward Street proudly supports high quality early learning and care. Donate today so children, families, and businesses can thrive, and follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn.