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A serious investment

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In Massachusetts, over the past 15 years, there has been a loss of $114 million in state support for early education and after-school education. This decrease has resulted in a reduction in the quality and availability of services that our children deserve.

Debbie
Rambo

Sam (not his real name) was a bright, energetic not-quite three-year-old blessed with curly black hair and an infectious, dimpled smile when he was first enrolled in our pre-school program. Sam also had a speech delay that was causing real problems for him, especially as he attempted to interact with other children in his classroom. Frustrated at not being understood, Sam entered play situations aggressively -- interrupting or knocking over whatever his classmates were doing.

Sam's mother worked full-time and was on the verge of being totally overwhelmed as she tried to not only help her son, but also as she tried to help Sam's father, who suffered from mental illness.

Sam's mother was relieved and grateful to learn that therapeutic help for Sam was available in our preschool. Our child therapist began to help Sam learn some new and more appropriate ways to play with his classmates, while also helping to access the speech therapy that he needed. She also worked with Sam's mother and his teachers, ensuring that the whole team -- family, educators and helping professionals -- were caring for Sam in a coordinated, positive way.

Thankfully, these helping resources were in place and available to Sam and his mother as participants of our child care program as sadly, mother and child had to face the tragic loss of Sam's father, who took his own life before Sam turned 4.

Today, Sam is a happy, healthy and learning, his social and emotional growth is on track, and his speech is dramatically improved.

In light of the challenges that too many of our young children must face today, Catholic Charities recently joined the Put Massachusetts Kids First Coalition (www.putmakidsfirst.org) a broad-based coalition of more than two dozen organizations across the Commonwealth focused on improving outcomes for children by stabilizing and strengthening our early childhood education workforce.

Here at Catholic Charities, we know the important impact early education and out of school care has for our children. Results from countless studies and research support our understanding that investment in high-quality early education and out-of-school-time programs makes a critical difference for our kids.

Each and every day more than 1100 children are cared for in one of Catholic Charities Early Childhood Programs. We are steadfast in our commitment to ensuring that every child, regardless of their income, has the benefit of high quality care.

But in Massachusetts, over the past 15 years, there has been a loss of $114 million in state support for early education and after-school education. This decrease has resulted in a reduction in the quality and availability of services that our children deserve. In the past few years, 20 percent of community-based early education providers have closed because of a lack of support from the state.

Every day, we see first-hand how quality infant, toddler and preschool programs can make a difference, as do quality afterschool and summer programs. A serious investment in centers providing this educational foundation for children is long overdue.

As part of the Put Massachusetts Kids First coalition, we are advocating to the governor and our state legislators for new investment in our children by supporting a consistent and highly skilled workforce. Research shows us that learning starts at birth, and the achievement gap begins for lower-income children before they begin kindergarten. Therefore, this segment of our education pipeline is critical. It is not an extra, nor optional.

Our coalition is being heard on Beacon Hill, legislators are behind our efforts, but the money we desperately need for our workforce will not be budgeted without a loud, unified voice to state law makers.

Put MA Kids First urges you to call your state delegation and encourage them to set early education and care and out-of-school time as a priority in the FY2016 Budget. Visit the Put Massachusetts Kids First website to find out more about our coalition and what we are advocating here: www.putmakidsfirst.org/about-us/.

To learn more about Catholic Charities Child Care programs, go to www.ccab.org.

DEBORAH KINCADE RAMBO IS PRESIDENT OF CATHOLIC CHARITIES OF THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON.

Deborah Kincade Rambo is president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.

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