by Karen Pelletier, Executive Vice President, Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce

Last month the Together for Kids Coalition convened early education providers, educators, policymakers, families, and employers for their first Solution Forum in order to further develop the first solution in Worcester’s Early Childhood plan. The forum brought together these community stakeholders to discuss and contribute to a comprehensive, action-oriented, solution-based Early Education and Care (EEC) for Worcester.

I was invited to share the concerns of the region’s business community as well as offer our commitment at the Chamber to work collaboratively to move this issue forward.

Certainly, those at the center of the EEC crisis are our children and their families. When we back out level by level, we see the impact is shared among all of us.

Parents and caretakers need EEC so they can go to work. I’m sure we are all well aware of the desperate need for classroom teachers, but it’s not only Early Education with a workforce crisis–the top concern of our region’s employers, regardless of the size or sector, is workforce.

As a chamber, we have been actively working on a portfolio of education and workforce development efforts for the past decade. Four years ago, the Chamber joined forces with a number of other business organizations and employers to establish the Massachusetts Business Coalition for Early Childhood Education. Now comprised of 80 major employers and 20 business associations, the Coalition has been working to make world-class early childhood education and care accessible, affordable, and stable for Massachusetts workers.

In a survey we shared with our members as did others across the commonwealth in 2020, we learned that:

  • 91% of employers reported “significant concern about childcare and school issues adversely impacting employee engagement and productivity.”
  • 76% of parents reported the quality of work suffers due to childcare challenges**, and
  • 79% of parents are concerned they will not be able to work without formal childcare**.

As a coalition, we have approached the issue from 3 focus areas:

  • Budget and policy changes and advocacy
  • Public-private partnerships, and
  • Employer-based solutions

Through each of these, our message is that EEC is simultaneously:

  • childhood development
  • workforce development and
  • economic development.

This is a shared priority, and as such all of us should be part of the solution. Building a quality early education and care system that is affordable and available is not only the right thing to do for our people but also for our economy. We need to address the labor issue in EEC not only for that sector but also for businesses and employers of all sizes.

But simply solving the workforce demand in EEC and getting things “back to normal” isn’t enough. Normal or status quo was not working for all of our residents. It’s not just about ensuring safe care for our 0–5-year-olds. We need to ensure that we are preparing our children for long-term success.

Our collective perspective is shifting as evidenced by the forum and by the “Gateway to PreK” press announcement by Governor Healey, where multiple members of her cabinet were present including the secretary of Education, Labor and Workforce Development, and Economic Development.

The Healey Gateway to Pre-K” agenda*** includes four key components:

  • Delivering universal, high-quality preschool access for four-year-olds in all Gateway Cities by the end of 2026. Every family of a 4-year-old in these 26 communities [including Worcester] will have the opportunity – at a low or no cost — to enroll their child in a high-quality preschool program that prepares them for kindergarten.
  • Increasing Child Care Financial Assistance (CCFA) eligibility from 50 percent of the state median income (SMI) to 85 percent SMIto help an additional 4,000 low-and moderate-income families afford care.
  • Continuing Commonwealth Cares for Children (C3) grants in FY25, providing stable funding for programs to improve quality, pay facility costs, and hire more staff, thereby creating more classrooms where families can enroll their children in affordable child care.
  • Signing an executive order to recognize the essential role child care plays in driving the state’s economy and competitiveness forward and directing the Healey-Driscoll administration to take a whole-of-government approach to ensuring affordable, high-quality child care.


Having strong infrastructure for EEC is not just a moral issue, it’s an economic issue, and a growing priority of the employer community, in addition to the city and state leaders.

We know that expanding access to EEC and building our city’s infrastructure which prioritizes children’s development and families in this way will simultaneously support workforce development and economic growth for Worcester residents and families.

We will see how the city and commonwealth are able to create system changes as budgets are passed and time goes on. In Worcester, we are fortunate to have leadership from our legislative delegation and the Together For Kids Coalition who have led us to where we are now—which is ready to make sure each family has access to affordable early education and care in our community.


Note: This forum was the first of TFK Solution Forums, to be followed by additional gatherings focused on early childhood mental health, and high quality equitable primary and preventative health care throughout the early childhood years.


*Massachusetts Business Coalition for Early Childhood Education fall 2020 employer survey

**Strategies for Children, Inc./Beacon Research statewide survey of 599 Massachusetts families with young children.

***Governor Healey Announces Universal, High-Quality Pre-K Access for Gateway Cities 1/16/24