Boston will take another step toward universal pre-kindergarten with a $20 million investment to add seats across its diverse child care ecosystem.
Mayor Michelle Wu made the announcement outside the Acorn Center for Early Education and Care in Chinatown Wednesday morning. She described the investment as just the latest step in the gradual process of guaranteeing free, high-quality child care citywide.
The money, drawn from both the Boston Public Schools budget and the city's three-year-old Quality Pre-K Fund, will fund grants to bring in new community-based seats as early as this fall.
But it will also allow family-based centers to join the city's infrastructure of universal pre-kindergarten. Over the course of the next school year, city officials will work with providers to devise a way to include those home-based centers in Boston's existing system of grants, training and quality monitoring.
The investment also reworks city aid so it's distributed per classroom, not per student, which would ease financial uncertainty for centers at a time when child care enrollment and attendance have fluctuated.
As a mother to two young boys, Wu said she knows the status quo can feel like a "chaotic, impossible juggle" of various "systems of enrollment, multiple pickups and drop-offs [and] lotteries." She said the long-term goal is to develop a "one-stop shop" for families seeking child care to choose among several high-quality options.
The mayor argued that home-based providers can play an important role in delivering on the vision of universal pre-kindergarten, because of their convenience, native-language or cultural compatibility and longer hours.
This latest investment will bring the number of city-approved child care seats at community-based providers to nearly 1,000 and the total number of universal pre-K seats to over 3,500 when counting those within Boston Public Schools.
Wu acknowledged that there is more to do before Boston is delivering "true universal pre-kindergarten," especially when it comes to a guarantee of high quality.