GOOD MORNING, MASSACHUSETTS. TGIF!
CLARK Q&A: ‘CHILD CARE IS INFRASTRUCTURE’ — On the heels of passing a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package, lawmakers in Washington are gearing up for another big fight. This time, it’s over President Joe Biden‘s $2 trillion infrastructure plan.
Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark, the fourth most powerful House Democrat, is a key player in what happens next. I caught up with Clark in Medford yesterday at the McGlynn elementary and middle schools, where she was promoting the so-called American Rescue Plan. We spoke about Covid-19 relief, how to define infrastructure, and how cities and towns should handle the MCAS test after an unprecedented year. Our conversation was edited for length and clarity.
You’re here promoting the American Rescue Plan. What is the most important thing that’s going to come out of this package for Massachusetts?
Hope for communities. It is saying that help is on the way, that we see what you’ve been through, and that in Congress we are committed to making sure that our local communities and our state have the funding they need to put the pieces back together for families across the commonwealth.
President Joe Biden just introduced a $2 trillion infrastructure and jobs plan. Rep. Richard Neal pledged that child care needs to be a guarantee in that package, and that’s something you’ve been pushing for a long time. What’s the ideal outcome?
Child care is infrastructure. We understand that it is as critical to our recovery as roads and bridges and investing in broadband across the country. The bill that I’ve introduced, aptly named Child Care is Infrastructure Act, is making a $10 billion investment in the capital infrastructure, which we know is in deplorable state in child care centers and family child care homes around the country. Let’s give them a chance to upgrade those facilities without having to pass those costs on through expensive tuition increases to families. It’s also going to establish a way for child care providers to be able to further their education, earn more money and be able to have those student loans repaid as they continue to work in early education. We look forward to including child care and changing that paradigm, that this is a private decision between parents and a child care provider, to understanding and investing in it as the public good that it is.
There’s been plenty of debate over what the Biden administration is calling infrastructure, like child care, which isn’t traditionally thought of that way. What do you make of that?
There’s nothing soft or second-tier about child care as infrastructure. That’s what it is. And I can tell you that the business community recognizes this, that this is as important to them as transportation modes for recruiting and retaining the workforce that they have, and getting them back to work. The pandemic revealed so much about the inequities, and the under-investment in child care was one of those glaring areas.
Senate Democrats may continue to rely on budget reconciliation to pass bills if they can’t get Republicans on board. Do you agree with using budget reconciliation again?
The president’s been very clear. Every big piece of legislation like this is open to compromise and change, but you have to start by setting out your priorities and seeing where we can find that middle ground. I hope that’s the path the Republicans will take with us and join us in that work. But if not, the American people cannot wait for this investment. We are going to do our best to work with Republicans to make this a bipartisan bill, but the reconciliation process is there if they do not want to meet us in meeting the challenges of the American people.
Kids across the state are returning to in-person classrooms this month. How should districts handle the MCAS test?
It’s very much a local school district decision. But I do think that if local school districts feel that is in the best interest to delay the MCAS to the fall, that I’m hearing from many educators, that they are supported in that. Our kids have been out of school and that has not only hurt them academically, but it is a mental health issue, it is a food insecurity issue, and we have to make sure that those needs are met. In the American Rescue Plan, we’re very clear that 20 percent of that funding has to go to helping children recuperate those losses, whether that’s an afterschool program or a summer program. That’s where I think our time and funding needs to be focused. The MCAS are an important part of our evaluation, but I think that we need to work with local school districts to make the right decisions for their students and families.
Would you support a local school district that wants to cancel the test for this year?
Hypothetically, if that’s what they feel is the best. But what I’m hearing from educators is a delay. Let us get our schools reopen, let us make those assessments of where kids are, and we know that kids have fallen behind in so many crucial ways.
To read the full Q&A, click here.