When it comes to early education and childcare, you have to think big. That was the theme of a Tisch College panel discussion with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congresswomen Katherine Clark, Ayanna Pressley, and Lori Trahan at Tufts University on May 3.
Following a walk-through of Tufts’ Eliot-Pearson Children’s School, the congresswomen spoke to a full house at Breed Memorial Hall about the importance of funding Head Start, forgiving early childhood educator loans, supporting providers, and partnering with businesses to promote childcare solutions.
“When I talk about the three issues facing Congress, I always say the same thing: our children, our children, our children,” Pelosi said. “Their health, their education, the economic security of their families, a safe and healthy environment in which they can thrive, a world at peace in which they can reach their fulfillment—it’s all connected around the children.”
Here are three takeaways from the discussion:
Addressing inequities must be part of any early education and childcare strategy. “I know education is life’s great equalizer, but we would be remiss not to consider the whole equation: that family is life’s great stabilizer,” Pressley said. “Children are not independent contractors—they exist in families and are part of whole communities. We need to be focused on the holistic livability, sustainability, safety, and health of communities, because the best gift you can give a child is a stable parent.”
It’s important to support a variety of childcare providers. Being a mother taught Clark that center-based childcare providers are not always the best option for “scheduling needs, linguistic needs, and just the ability to have someone in your neighborhood,” she said. Bolstering home-based providers would not only help women-owned businesses, but also enable more parents to reenter the workforce and benefit the local economy. “We need them in the workforce, and they frequently want to be there, and childcare is the link to getting them there—but it has to be affordable,” Clark said.
Doubling down on early education and childcare pays off. Trahan remarked on the investment in teaching robotics and STEM she witnessed on the Eliot-Pearson Children’s School tour. “That’s where we have to go as a country to keep a competitive advantage in the global economy of AI, quantum computing, and cybersecurity,” she said. “Programs like that in early education, as well as in higher ed, get people the skills they need quickly for the jobs we want to attract and obtain in this country.”
It’s an empathy deficit, not a budget deficit, that prevents the current administration from making these investments, Pressley added. “It is completely asinine that they’re willing to cut taxes for wealthy people and corporations and would even entertain the idea of a space force, but we can’t make these critical investments to stabilize families in the workforce and economy,” she said. It’s a shortsighted strategy, Pelosi said. “When they say they have to cut education in any form, it is one of the dumbest things—with stiff competition—that they could say,” she said. “Because nothing brings more money to the treasury than investment in education.”
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