By Senator Sal DiDomenico
Massachusetts has long been a leader in education, public health, and innovation. However, when it comes to ensuring that all our children have a chance to succeed, we still have much work to do.
To start with, it’s time that Massachusetts gets serious about guaranteeing that every child has a right to a high quality early education. Experts agree that quality early education is a vital indicator of a child’s future success and a key component to closing the achievement gap between high and low income students. Yet, here in the Commonwealth, and an estimated forty percent of 3 and 4-year-olds are not enrolled in any formal preschool program.
Furthermore, far too many children show up for pre-Kindergarten already behind, and many of them are never able to catch up. More than 40% of third graders are unable to read proficiently and, among students from low income families, that statistic is at a disturbing 61%. Reading coaches, specialized literacy programs, and summer programs, for example, have all shown great promise in helping to close the achievement gap among students, but specialized help often never reaches the children who need it most.
Additionally, when discussing how we can support our children, we tend to overlook how important it is to also support their parents and families as a whole. Programs such as home visits, prenatal support groups, fatherhood initiatives, and pediatrician outreach have all been shown to have a beneficial impact on a child’s future outcome; yet, once again, too many parents do not have access to such programs, or are unaware of how to utilize them.
There is no greater investment we can make than one for our children, and it is time that we commit our actions today to developing a brighter future for them.
My colleagues and I in the Senate are well aware that the future success of our Commonwealth depends on the success of our children, which is why we have kicked off 2016 with the launch of a new initiative to help identify proven policies and strategies, and to strive toward best outcomes for each and every child across our state.
Kids First, which I am honored to lead, will take a comprehensive and interdisciplinary look at a wide variety of policy areas relating to supporting children, with a strong focus on early childhood development from prenatal through the fourth grade. By creating an open dialogue among experts, policymakers, and stakeholders alike, we can develop a holistic approach to supporting strong, resilient children and families. This initiative will not only explore and identify the best practices and investments we can make for our children today, it will also pinpoint the long-term actions we can take that will put future generations on the path to productive adulthood.
With these goals in mind, we also recognize that every child is different; they come from varying backgrounds with unique needs, and we must take all of those factors into consideration. There is no single path to success for every child, nor is there a single answer to the various challenges we face.
Fortunately, we will not have to look far for help. We have an abundance of local organizations doing incredible work for the children of Massachusetts, and we are very fortunate to have the opportunity to tap them for their expertise on the many different areas we must consider and address.
The goal of Kids First is ambitious, and there is a lot of ground to cover. I have often been asked how we can afford the many different policy proposals that have been offered over the years to support kids across the Commonwealth. My answer to them: how can we not afford to invest in our children?
Senator Sal DiDomenico is Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and he has represented the Middlesex and Suffolk District since 2010..