Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Representatives Katherine Clark, Ayanna Pressley and Lori Trahan came to Tufts to speak about early education and child care during a Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life panel discussion at Breed Memorial Hall on May 3, following their visit to the Eliot-Pearson Children’s School.
The panel was part of Pelosi’s “Speaker in the House” series. According to a media advisory provided to the Daily, the purpose of the series is “to engage communities across the country and ensure the voices of the American people are being heard in the halls of Congress.”
The House Democrats spoke to a full crowd, including more than a dozen state representatives, Medford Mayor Stephanie Burke and President and CEO of the early education organization JumpStart Naila Bolus (LA ’87).
The panel kicked off with an introduction by University President Anthony Monaco, who welcomed the crowd and introduced Clark as the moderator, then spoke briefly about the importance of education.
“For more than 50 years, Eliot-Pearson has been an important training ground for teachers,” Monaco said. “We are honored that Tufts was selected to host this discussion on early education.”
Clark then began the discussion by talking about accomplishments made in the first 100 days of the 116th Congress. She mentioned efforts including campaign finance legislation in the form of H.R. 1, the For The People Act and a bill aimed at reducing gun violence, H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act.
She emphasized that legislative efforts mainly focused on improving national infrastructure in various ways.
“Child care is a critical part of this, that really cuts across what we are trying to do,” Clark said. “It helps parents participate in the workforce and it helps those who will add to the workforce in the future.”
Clark went on to say that under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ definition of affordable child care that sets child-care payments at 7% of a family’s income, only one out of five Massachusetts families who need child care are able to afford it, making Massachusetts central to the discussion surrounding child care.
Speaking next, Pelosi stressed that the desire to improve children’s lives has always been central to her reasons for holding public office.
“When people want to run for office, any office, I would say know your ‘why,’ Pelosi said. “My ‘why’ has always been the one in five children in America who lives in poverty.”
Pelosi also reflected on her visit to the Eliot-Pearson Children’s School that morning, and she commended Tufts for its forward-thinking model of child care and education.
“To see what’s happening here as really a model … this is central to what we do. Of course, housing is too,” Pelosi said. “It’s all connected, all around the children, and I congratulate Tufts for what’s happening here.”
Pressley followed Pelosi, and started by acknowledging what she called an unprecedented number of women serving in the Massachusetts House delegation.
“It would’ve been an honor for me just to share a stage with them. But the fact that I get to govern with them every day is a tremendous honor and deeply rewarding, especially given the times that we currently find ourselves in,” Pressley said.
Pressley emphasized that it was important to consider education as an issue within the greater social context. She said that families and caregivers increasingly face inequality and disparity and said that legislators have to support infrastructure to support children and families.
“We know that education is life’s great equalizer. But we are remiss and not considering the whole equation if we don’t recognize that family is life’s great stabilizer. And one cannot exist without the other,” she said. “So when we’re talking about the people, and future generations, family is the stabilizer, education is the equalizer, and we need to support them working in symbiotic partnership.”
Speaking about seeing a robotics class at Eliot-Pearson, Trahan addressed education as an intersection between her placements on the Armed Forces and Education and Labor committees.
“When I think about where we have to go as a country, in terms of keeping up our competitive advantage in the global economy around AI, quantum computing and cybersecurity, we have to make those investments early,” she said.
In a time for questions at the end of the panel presentation, the congresswomen addressed how to increase access to Head Start, a national early education program for low-income families, as well as how child care is valued and how business can be a better partner with child care.
Addressing how business can cooperate with early education and child care, Clark emphasized the opportunities and growth that the child-care industry can bring to the future workforce.
“We need your help and we need your advocacy. We have the data and a lot of it comes from Tufts University,” Clark said. “[Low unemployment] creates an issue with retaining and attracting young parents in the workforce. Child care is the link. If you’re looking for the workforce of the future, child care supports that as well.”