Massachusetts treasurer and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steven Grossman asked business leaders Thursday to throw their financial clout behind a universal prekindergarten program for all children in the state.
In a speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, Grossman called for creation of a public-private partnership that would provide the resources to place some 30,000 children into early education programs who are now on state waiting lists, including many from low-income families.
Under such an arrangement, the private sector would typically pay about half the cost of the program, with the state providing the rest. Grossman said if elected he would not rule out a tax increase to pay for early education and other initiatives.
Studies have shown that children who are enrolled in prekindergarten programs often have an advantage when they enter school, Grossman said.
"When these children are left behind at age 3 or 4, they may never catch up," he said, noting that other states have had universal prekindergarten programs for years.
"How can we profess to lead the nation in student achievement, and still have 30,000 of our children waiting to learn how to read?" Grossman asked the business leaders.
Paul Guzzi, president of the chamber, said he agreed with the need to expand early education but pressed Grossman on how he would pay for that and other initiatives as governor.
Grossman said growing the state economy by 75,000 to 100,000 jobs each year would produce enough new tax revenue to fund improvements in education, transportation and other areas. But he said taxes would remain an option.
"I will not take raising taxes off the table," he told reporters after the speech.
The Legislature approved $15 million in additional funding for early education in the current state budget, considerably less than the $131 million Gov. Deval Patrick had sought with the goal of eliminating the waitlist.
A former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Grossman is among five Democrats, two Republicans and three independents hoping to succeed Patrick, who is not seeking a third term.
Grossman also urged business leaders to support an increase in the state's $8 per hour minimum wage and earned sick time for all workers in Massachusetts.
Grossman said he favored a Senate-backed proposal that would raise the minimum wage to $11 per hour over three years and tie future increases to inflation, over a bill approved by the House on Wednesday that would bump the wage up to $10.50 per hour by 2016, but not provide automatic cost-of-living adjustments.
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