Parents know high-quality child care and preschool slots can be hard to find on the Cape and Islands. Now parents and providers, with some support from the business community, are asking the state to dedicate more public funding to early education and care.
They hope to make care more affordable for families and raise the pay of staff, who sometimes earn so little that they qualify for subsidized child care for their own children.
Supporters spoke Wednesday at a virtual meeting hosted by the Cape and Islands chapter of the Common Start Coalition.
Chandler Alves, a preschool teacher, said educators like her serve as science, English, math, and history teachers rolled into one — yet are underappreciated and underpaid.
“When I started as a teacher assistant, I was paid $10 an hour in Falmouth, Massachusetts, to be in charge of children’s lives,” she said.
Elise Hugus, a mother and video producer who lives in Falmouth, said staying home with her son for two years showed her how important the work is.
Now that her son goes to daycare, the tuition has nearly doubled because of coronavirus restrictions, which limit the number of children and require extra sanitizing.
“I strongly believe that any initiative that we’re putting forth should provide an adequate stipend for parents to stay home with their children if they choose, or to use that stipend for child care,” she said.
On Nantucket, finding child care — especially for infants — has become extremely difficult, according to Susan Richards, the family education and outreach specialist at Nantucket Community School.
She said that for Nantucket’s 800 children under the age 5, there are only five licensed child care centers and 11 homes licensed to provide care.
“Most families with infants and toddlers who need child care have to make due with a combination of family and friend care, all of which is unlicensed and typically not eligible for financial assistance,” she said.
Children who don’t attend licensed care can miss being assessed for early intervention and public preschool.
Richards acknowledged that financial hardship doesn’t fit the stereotype of Nantucket, but she said rent is hugely expensive, starting around $3,000 a month for a three-bedroom apartment, so families spend much of their income on housing.
In addition, she said about 40 percent of families in the Nantucket schools are non-native English speakers.
Supporters said they hope the fresh attention paid to child care and early education because of COVID-19 will help bolster support for more state funding and ultimately improve the quality of care.
Elysse Magnotto-Cleary expressed support on behalf of Cape Air, where she works as director of community engagement. Early education should not be a matter of luck, she said.
The Common Start Coalition is developing a legislative agenda that will likely call for a funding mechanism similar to Massachusetts’ paid family and medical leave, according to Sandy Faiman-Silva of the Cape and Islands chapter.