Yesterday, the Governor filed his budget proposal for FY 2015—his blueprint for what he thinks we should do together through state government in the coming year (and how we will pay for those things.)

Unlike his proposal last year, the Governor’s FY15 budget does not include significant new revenue, which means that the investments he specifies for education, human services, and elsewhere are relatively modest. These include:

  • Early Education & Care, where continued funding growth would help move more children off the wait list and into early education and care programs
  • Higher Education, which would see a third straight year of increases—albeit to levels still 22% below where they were in 2001 (adjusted for inflation)
  • Elder Services, where increases would expand access to home care and improve quality

In addition to these new investments, the Governor’s proposal continues support for a number of prior commitments, including a multi-year plan to fix and improve our transportation system and another multi-year effort to update and standardize the rates paid to contracted human and social service providers (“Chapter 257″).

To support these kinds of targeted investments—and to help fill a preliminary budget shortfall we estimated at roughly $500 million—the Governor’s budget includes $334 million in temporary revenue, meaning revenue that will be available for just this year and will not support ongoing initiatives. It also includes $132 million in new ongoing revenue, which would be available both this year and in future years. This ongoing revenue comes from a variety of different sources.

  • Eliminating the tax exemption for candy and soda—which raises roughly $68 million while potentially helping to curb obesity and improve public health
  • Expanding the 5 cent bottle deposit to include non-carbonated beverages (like water)—along with which the Governor proposes to restore funding for recycling and redemption centers
  • Making changes to corporate taxes, most of which would eliminate loopholes and increase tax fairness

Using the money from these and other revenue changes, the Governor’s budget does include some important initiatives to help our families and our communities. But without a more ambitious revenue proposal which could offset the long-term cost of the income tax cuts of 1998-2002, it is difficult to give our children the opportunities they deserve and to build a vibrant economy for the future.

Our new Budget Monitor provides further detail, showing how the Governor’s budget would affect programs across state government

For additional information on how his budget affects programs for kids, browse our Children’s Budget.

MassBudget

Half a century later

January 9, 2014 Nancy Wagman, Kids Count Project Director at

Half a century ago, President Johnson declared an “unconditional war on poverty in America.” As he said at the time, “It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest nation on earth can afford to win it.”

What has happened over those fifty years? Are kids today any better off than they were fifty years ago?

Think about what the lives of children in our country and our state would be if this “war” had never happened.

Imagine grandparents without Medicare to help pay for their care when they get sick. Imagine no Medicaid for the poor or disabled. Imagine no Head Start programs to get our youngest neighbors on a path to education, or no financial aid for our low-income teenage neighbors who want to go to college. Imagine no food stamps to put food on the table of a family that falls on hard times.

We know that the Census Bureau’s official poverty measure, a measure that was created in the early 1960′s, says that one in seven children in Massachusetts are poor, and close to 13 million children nationwide. But this number doesn’t tell the whole story. The Census Bureau has been developing a more up-to-date way to measure poverty in order to take into account the value of many of the safety net programs created over the past five decades.

According to this alternative measure, researchers have shown that safety net programs created under the Johnson and subsequent administrations helped cut the overall national poverty rate from 26 percent to 16 percent between 1967 and 2012.

This same research shows that using this updated poverty measure, in the 1960′s 29 percent of kids were poor. That means close to one out of every three children. In contrast, the U.S. child poverty rate today is 19 percent, or fewer than one in five.

True, poverty has not been eradicated. Our minimum wage is still too low to keep many working families out of poverty. When the economy falters, today’s safety net is still not strong enough to protect everyone. But a safety net – created and strengthened as part of our War on Poverty – today lifts the lives of 41 million Americans, including 9 million children.

A strong economy is one that works for everyone, including young and experienced workers, children and families, lower-wage and high-wage earners. Over the past year, the Massachusetts economy has continued to grow and the median income has inched upward, but despite these gains the statewide poverty rate remains stubbornly high and wages are still lower than they were in 2007, before the “Great Recession.”

Historically, within a year or two of the end of a recession, the national poverty rate has begun to decline. But that hasn’t held true for the two recessions we’ve had since 2000—not for the U.S. and not for Massachusetts.

Over 1 in every 7 children across the state is currently living in poverty. Child poverty can have a substantial impact on kids’ long-term growth and future opportunities. Recent research on economic mobility has found that children exposed to many years of poverty are far more likely to be poor as adults. As is the case with the overall poverty rate, child poverty in Massachusetts is lower than the U.S. as a whole, but still significantly higher than it was pre-recession.

Addressing the challenges of poverty could involve a range of different investments and interventions:

  • New research has found that higher minimum wages can help reduce the number of people in poverty. (Read More)
  • Expanding access to early education and care could both empower kids and allow parents to seek and keep jobs.
  • At the federal level, additional economic stimulus could help improve the job market and put upward pressure on wages.
  • Expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) could boost the incomes of low-income workers. Children in families that earn the EITC have been shown to do better in school, attend college at higher rates, and earn more as adults. (Read More)

Read more about The State of Working Massachusetts

Rennie Center

Introducing the Condition of Education in the Commonwealth

November 18, 2013 Chad d’Entremont, Executive Director of the

Massachusetts has distinguished itself as a leader in education, both on the national and international level. Despite this reputation, we still face challenges in expanding opportunities for all students. This can be seen as early as third grade, where the most recent MCAS scores in English Language Arts show that only 35% of high-needs students score proficient or higher.

The trend continues through high school, where only 56% of high-needs students complete the MassCore coursework that helps them to be college and career ready. It therefore comes as no surprise that 36% of students at Massachusetts public institutions of higher education place into remedial courses, thus reducing the likelihood that they will continue towards degree completion. Ultimately, only 39% of all Massachusetts adults have attained a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Recognizing these challenges, both the public and private sectors have often asked where education investments would be most effective. Many strategies have been suggested, ranging from no excuses charter schools in urban centers, to experiential learning programs during the summer months, to improving STEM education in the high school years. Indeed, the Governor’s most recent budget proposal put forth a variety of ideas for expanding existing programs and introducing new initiatives (such as increasing funding for extended learning time and expanding access to early education, among other things). What is missing in our policy efforts and our state-level conversations is a comprehensive vision to improve outcomes for all students, from birth into adulthood. Furthermore, we need to continuously evaluate our efforts if we hope to make progress.

On the morning of Nov. 21, at the Omni Parker House Hotel in Boston, the Rennie Center will introduce our new annual project, the Condition of Education in the Commonwealth. This project will track student progress and proficiency throughout the education pipeline with the intention of providing a more complete and nuanced look at our education system, using indicators aligned with state-level data to monitor Massachusetts’ reform agenda. This project will enable us to conduct a much needed self-assessment, twenty years after the last major reform to our education system was passed.

With this knowledge, we can then look at what the research and evidence tell us about how best to proceed, and what additional information we may need to move forward. This improvement effort must be ongoing, as we conduct additional research, gather new data, and leverage key opportunities to inform adjustments to our system to further benefit our students. We hope you can join us for what should be a frank and constructive conversation. Register here to attend: http://www.renniecenter.org/event_registration.html

MassBudget

Census Data Shows Massachusetts has Capacity to Invest in Education

November 14, 2013 Chris Gustafson, Policy Analyst at

Education serves many important functions, helping young people become active citizens and helping them develop skills to contribute productively in the workforce. In Massachusetts, as with most states in the nation, there is a  strong connection between improving the skills of the state workforce and creating a high-wage economy (for more detail on the education/wage link, please see A Well-Educated Workforce is Key to State Prosperity). Massachusetts leads the country in student performance, but is there greater capacity to fund our public schools and in turn lead to even better results?

It turns out that in Massachusetts we invest a below-average share of our state’s economic resources in public education. Specifically, according to US Census Bureau education spending data for FY 2011, K-12 education spending as a percent of state personal income is 3.97 percent in Massachusetts compared to 4.12 percent nationwide. Overall, Massachusetts ranks 33rd in the share of our state’s economic resources dedicated to public education.

I recently spoke at a legislative briefing about holding kids back in their grade. It turns out that far better ways to support student success exist. As I pediatrician I am invested in finding out how make that happen. A legislative aide asked me, If you could do anything to make things better for kids, what would it be? I knew immediately: preschool for everyone.

No parent wants his or her child to fail. But succeeding in school is complicated. Kids need classes where they can focus, teachers who match their learning styles. Kids need sleep and good nutrition, safe homes and communities. They need parents with good physical and mental health. They need emotional wellbeing that is nurtured. And for those kids with learning disabilities or other developmental differences, they need specific plans like reading programs or language therapy.

Kids need this from the start, and they need each year to build on the last.

Continue reading

Over the past four years, thousands of children with serious psychiatric disabilities have been receiving home-based services under the state’s Children’s Behavioral Health Initiative (CBHI).  But far fewer youth than anticipated are receiving intensive services consistent with the wraparound principles that guided and directed the design of the new remedial system.

In addition, the Commonwealth still faces challenges ensuring that youth have reasonable access to needed services, that they are utilizing services at the requisite intensity and duration, that the services are effective, and that they meet quality standards.

Continue reading

The Children’s Behavioral Health Initiative (CBHI) is a system of care intended to ensure that medically necessary home-based services are available to both assist children with serious emotional disturbance to remain in their home, in school, and in the community, as well as to reduce the likelihood that such children will be removed from their homes because of their mental health needs. CBHI services were part of the remedy ordered as a result of the Rosie D. v. Romney lawsuit – a Federal suit in which the Court found that the Commonwealth violated the Early and Period Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment provisions of the federal Medicaid Act by failing to provide home-based services to thousands of children across the Commonwealth or inform parents that they are entitled to covered services. Continue reading

Samilla Quiroa was surprised by the unusual request.

Could her two year-old son open the door with just a verbal command? That’s what the Thrive in 5 parent screener wanted to know. No finger pointing, no gesture of any manner; could he respond to his mother’s words?

In her topsy-turvy world of stay-at-home mothering, this had never occurred to Samilla; what difference did it make if her toddler could open a door without a pointed finger from his mom?

Now, months later, a parent screener herself, it all makes perfect sense.

Thrive in 5 Parent Screener Samilla

Thrive in 5 Parent Screener Samilla

It was Samilla’s neighbor who had recommended a visit from the screener. She had raved about the experience. Not anyone to pass up anything that could benefit her children, Samilla agreed, and the resulting experience completely changed her perspective as a mother and caregiver.

Thrive in 5′s parent screeners are deployed to homes, delivering free screenings for children from one month to four years-old. They arrive bearing a variety of toys, props and activities, designed to screen for any potential developmental delays.

Thrive in 5 is a joint initiative between the City of Boston and United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, created to ensure universal school readiness for all of Boston’s children. The parent screener program is a pilot, working out of the Allston/Brighton and Dorchester neighborhoods. Ten parent screeners have screened 191 children to date.

“Screening helps parents understand what development looks like,” said Katie Britton, Director of Resource Development and Communications for Thrive in 5. “It shows them how their kids are doing and what they can do in their home and in their communities to support their children’s development.”

That’s the impact on a micro level; on a macro scale, the screeners are able to generate usable data that gives a broader picture of how young children are faring in Boston. The ultimate goal is to have a system for all young children to be screened in the city.

“We want to get a neighborhood-by-neighborhood view at what early childhood development looks like,” says Britton.

A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which details policy recommendations to better support children’s early development, has recognized Massachusetts for its high rate of developmental screening. Developmental screening provides an opportunity to identify and intervene early with developmental delays, when services and interventions are more effective.

The centerpiece mechanism for Thrive in 5′s screening is the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ), which parent screeners bring to each visit. It is a comprehensive tool, detailing all areas of development: communication, problem-solving, personal-social, and gross and fine motor. The survey adapts as well, with different questions and activities to be used for different ages and developmental stages.

“Parents may not be aware of their child’s development because they don’t have time or are just too busy,” said Samilla. “But these tools really do show you where your kids are doing well and where they need help. If your child is falling behind in any area, the screening will let you know and you can get referred to specialists in early intervention.”

From her position as a mom and a neighbor, Samilla understands that this lack of awareness – which she herself experienced – is common in the community. Some families simply don’t know the ins and outs of development milestones. This is what compelled her to become a parent screener herself.

“Parents feel more comfortable having other parents come in their home,” she says. “I’ve found that parents will feel more open and empowered by those who have shared their own experience.”

As someone fluent in both Portuguese and Spanish, she fills a critical role in connecting with non-English speaking families and is of immense value to the Allston/Brighton Children Thrive parent network. Samilla is already seeing results.

“This is causing a big impact in our community,” she says. “It’s a great tool and we are lucky to have access. It’s been done with my own children. It works.”

That first visit, when her son was asked to open the door on words alone, reinforced Samilla’s concerns about her son’s verbal communication. Since then, thanks to the early supports she was able to access, he’s making progress and, as she says, “catching up.” Now it is Samilla who is bringing a bold new approach to child development to her neighbors.

Now it is Samilla who is opening doors.