“I want to be able to offer that to all parents. But then, I have to look and say . . . do I accept the voucher and take the loss?”
Wayne Ysaguirre, president of Associated Early Care and Education, a Boston-based organization that runs six centers that serve low-income and working-class families, said he would be able to return to full capacity if the state increases its early childhood budget. Because of funding cuts, his program shrank by about 120 students in the past two years.
“We’re being very optimistic,” Ysaguirre said. “It’s very difficult to have parents call us, desperate for child care, and we can’t help them. We’ve been preparing to make those phone calls and send out those letters to parents.”
He wants to reward the teachers on his staff who went back to school and earned bachelor’s degrees but have not seen their salaries increase. He also plans to provide coaches to work with teachers to improve curriculum.
Åsa Fanelli, president of Horizons for Homeless, said an increase in state funds would encourage private donors to give more, helping to ensure they could move 170 students off their waiting list. The nonprofit organization educates 175 children who live in shelters or transitional housing at its three child-care centers. About 30 percent of its $10 million budget comes from state and federal funds.
“The need is incredible,” Fanelli said inside the Roxbury center. “I would like to double this one.”
Each of Horizons’ classrooms has three teachers, more than two-thirds of whom have bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Once a family is in a stable living situation, the children can continue at Horizons. About 25 percent of families, including Webster and her three children, are no longer homeless.
Webster, mother of the now-talkative Jayden became homeless when he was an infant, credits Horizons with helping to keep him from falling behind developmentally. A therapist worked with Jayden once a week at the center, articulating words during play, encouraging him to express emotions in words, not actions.
Researchers comparing households of different incomes have found not only a disparity in the complexity of words used, but also differences in the sheer number spoken. Children of professionals were, on average, exposed to about 1,500 more words per hour than children growing up in poverty.
But the children in that Roxbury preschool classroom with Jayden did not seem to be at a loss for words, as they sat in a circle passing a cup of solid ice. The boy who would barely speak just months ago describes it with ease: “It melts.”And: “It freezes, and it gets cold.”