Nishi Mehta ’21
Internship: Program and Innovation Fellow, Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care
Hometown: Acton, Massachusetts
Preferred Gender Pronouns: She/her/hers
Clubs and Affiliations: Education Leadership Conference (co-director of content), Nonprofit Board Fellows, Women in Management, Economic Development Club
Favorite SOM Class: Leading Small and Medium Enterprises and Inequality and Social Mobility
Favorite SOM Professor: Rodrigo Canales
Favorite New Haven eatery: September in Bangkok
I first came to the early childhood field through my work as part of the founding school team at The Primary School. We were driven by the idea that during their early years, children are surrounded by systems of care–their caregivers and family services, the early education and K-12 systems, and the healthcare system–that can be drawn upon as powerful levers of change. However, despite their best efforts, these systems currently operate in silos separated from each other. In my career, I hope to help build more comprehensive, child- and family-centered systems to positively impact the life trajectories of young children, with a focus on those in underserved communities.
Last year, I took the fall semester off from pursuing my MBA to support All Our Kin in pivoting their programs that support family child care providers in response to the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis. In seeking a second summer internship, I therefore thought about how the pandemic and recent racial justice movement had underscored the importance of using my time and energy to advocate for systems-level solutions to key societal challenges. The early education and childcare sector has long been undervalued and under-resourced, with early educators often being paid poverty-level wages. I was excited about the opportunity to work in government in my home state as a program and innovation fellow at the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care (EEC), where I would be working on an innovative public financing model for early education.
My work this summer centered around deploying a new funding formula for early education and care to distribute $314 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. States currently help low-income families to pay for childcare through subsidies. However, this funding structure has many challenges, including that subsidies don’t reach all the families who need them and are often based on attendance rather than enrollment, which creates an unstable revenue source for providers. In addition, these rates are insufficient to provide high quality care for children, livable wages for providers, and affordable care for families. Massachusetts EEC’s goals for this new financing model (the Commonwealth Cares for Children Formula) were to inform how to make the system more resilient and effective moving forward, while also dispersing urgently needed funds quickly to stabilize the field. To augment the existing subsidy system, these direct grants (distributed over six months) were aimed at covering a percentage of operating costs of care for each provider, as well as investing in historically marginalized communities. In particular, we were hoping that these funds would lead to even one-time increases in educator compensation across the field. I led the development of the grant application with the goal of minimizing barriers to providers accessing the funds, while still collecting the information necessary to demonstrate success of the new approach. In its first month of launch, more than 70% of licensed childcare providers in Massachusetts applied for the grant.
I feel immense gratitude to have worked alongside so many talented and dedicated public servants at the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care. While the work we were doing to distribute these short-term ARPA funds will be important in stabilizing current programs for children, there are still not enough resources to adequately and equitably support children–particularly our most vulnerable–in these important early years of their lives. Given the impacts of the pandemic, I am hopeful that this is a watershed moment in this country for recognizing early education and childcare as critical infrastructure that deserves significant ongoing public investment, as well as recognizing those who care for our youngest children as skilled educators who deserve our respect and support.