4 things to know about Head Start's recent challenges in Massachusetts

A sign on a classroom closed at ABCD East Boston. (Emily Piper-Vallillo/WBUR)
A sign on a classroom closed at ABCD East Boston. (Emily Piper-Vallillo/WBUR)

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from WBUR's daily morning newsletter, WBUR Today. If you like what you read and want it in your inbox, sign up here

While all of us in New England look longingly at the weather the rest of the East Coast is getting, here’s what we have ahead today:

Head Start headaches: For decades, Head Start has provided thousands of low-income families in Massachusetts an escape hatch from the state’s notoriously expensive child care costs. However, as WBUR’s Emily Piper-Vallillo reports, recent staffing shortages have forced Head Start leaders across the state to permanently cut slots for children — putting hundreds of toddlers on waitlists this fall. Here are four things to know about the situation:

  1. Head Start is crucial for many: In Massachusetts, there are over 150 Head Start centers run by 28 regional organizations. In total, they serve over 11,000 children. The (mostly) federally funded program offers free child care, early learning and meals for infants through kids age 5 from low-income families, as well as those in foster care or experiencing homelessness. And as Emily reports, for some families, the free service can mean the difference between living in a shelter and affording an apartment.
  2. It’s hard for programs to attract staff: Head Start teachers make an average of $39,000 a year — or half the average salary of a public K-12 teacher in Massachusetts. Program directors say they want to pay their teachers more, but budgets are tight.
  3. Slots are drying up as a result: At least three Head Start centers in Massachusetts have had to shut down entirely. Others are resorting to permanently cutting their class room size in order to boost teacher pay. That’s allowed them to fill staff vacancies, but it means more kids are left on waitlists. In Boston alone, there are more than 400 children on Head Start waitlists.
  4. The solution is pretty simple: “More money could solve these problems,” Michelle Haimowitz, the executive director of the Massachusetts Head Start Association, told Emily. Massachusetts is one of a few states that actually kicks in a little money to supplement Head Start’s federal funding. However, program directors say the funding hasn’t kept up with other rising costs. For more on how programs are handling the situation, read Emily’s full story here.

Full speeds, ahead? MBTA General Manager Phil Eng is expected to unveil plans this morning to remove all of the remaining speed restrictions on the MBTA’s subway lines. According to the T, the announcement — which will be live-streamed here at 8 a.m. — will cover the rest of the year and 2024.

Boston Medical Center is increasing its on-site security to deal with what the hospital says is a spike in loitering since police cleared the tent encampment in the nearby “Mass. and Cass” area last week. As the Boston Herald reports, BMC’s leaders say there’s been “a marked increase” in people loitering and sleeping in the hospital’s parking garages, on sidewalks and outside the emergency department — as well as sheltering in the emergency department’s waiting room.

  • The situation isn’t completely uncommon for the hospital, but officials said it usually doesn’t happen until the winter. “It’s quite a big increase at this point,” Dr. Alastair Bell, the president of the BMC Health System, said at a meeting last night. “We normally see that in much colder parts of the year.”

PSA for your holiday travels: Amtrak is holding a flash sale for travel between Dec. 4 and March 15 — with “ultra-low” ticket prices on routes nationwide now though next Wednesday, Nov. 15.

  • The local angle: The sale includes one-way tickets from New York and Washington, D.C., to Boston for less than $30 — though roundtrip tickets still cost you a good deal more. The lowest local sale price: a one-way ticket from Providence to Boston for $4.

P.S.— Need a moment of zen to start your day? Earlier this week, the Coast Guard announced new public webcams on Little Brewster Island, one of the outermost Boston Harbor Island. The four cameras give everyone the opportunity to bask in the sunrise and sunsets from the historic Boston Light, and pretend we’re Sally Snowman.


Headshot of Nik DeCosta-Klipa

Nik DeCosta-Klipa Newsletter Editor
Nik DeCosta-Klipa is the newsletter editor for WBUR.



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