OneCape 2022: Early education and childcare for strong communities
At OneCape, plenary speakers and breakout sessions aimed to highlight ongoing work to improve the region's access to, and affordability of, childcare.
Communities throughout Cape Cod and the Islands have long contended with underlying challenges related to providing quality, affordable childcare and early education services. While these challenges have immediate effects within the childcare and early education industries, they also threaten the region's economy and the economic status of women, children, and families. Cape Cod Commission Executive Director Kristy Senatori provided attendees with an overview of the recent Early Education and Childcare Needs Assessment findings, completed in partnership with the Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy.
Senator Susan Moran and State Representative Sarah Peake shared the OneCape stage to discuss the impact of childcare on our local economy and legislative priorities designed to improve affordability and access to childcare. Representative Peake shared that $1.2 billion is included in the recently passed state budget for early education programs. Also included are stabilization grants and a new grant program for which all childcare programs are eligible.
“The economy on the Cape rests on childcare,” said Senator Moran. “How do we set the table to be welcoming for our young workforce?” Senator Moran discussed key provisions in the proposed Act to expand access to high-quality, affordable early education and care, also known as Common Start legislation. Later in the program, Kathy Blackwell of the Common Start Coalition detailed a coordinated effort to support that legislation.
A survey of families on the Cape and Islands conducted as part of the Early Education and Childcare Needs Assessment uncovered regional struggles to find available, affordable, accessible childcare arrangements. During the Early Education and Childcare for Strong Communities breakout session, Chad d'Entremont, Executive Director; Sophie Zamarripa, Senior Associate; and Corinne Thomas, Researcher, from the Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy, further detailed findings and recommendations from the assessment. 46% of respondents said an adult in their household had made significant changes at work based on childcare responsibilities. More than 80% of respondents said it was difficult to find affordable care. Recommendations from the Rennie Center include providing childcare scholarships for town residents, offering affordable housing options for childcare workers, and expanding access to vouchers and subsidized programming.
Some local towns are already working to improve access to childcare for residents. Eastham Town Administrator Jacqueline Beebe shared the success of a collaborative effort between Eastham’s Finance Committee, Select Board and administration to help offset childcare costs for residents. Approved during Eastham’s 2020 Town Meeting, the plan offers all Eastham residents full-day preschool for 4-year-olds (up to $10,000 per child), half-day preschool for 3-year-olds (up to $5,000 per child), free school lunch for all, increased funding for after-school care programs and summer lunch programs, and set aside $100,000 per year in support for workforce housing programs.
"We know that on the Cape, our labor supply is not robust enough to meet our economic output,” said Noelle Pina, Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce Chief of Staff, who outlined the Chamber's strategies for advocacy and education within the business community. "Providing high-quality, reliable early education and childcare to our residents is the fastest way that we can add more workers to our local economy."