Space Matters: How a Quality Learning Environment Builds the Foundation for Future Learning

A competitive grant program is providing educators with critical funds needed to create high-quality learning environments – and they need your support

An updated HVAC system. A new roof. Updated lighting throughout the building. Improved and redesigned indoor activity and outdoor space.  These were the significant updates that Catholic Charities’ Child Care Center on Federal Street in Lynn needed to provide a high-quality learning environment for the children they served.

That all changed when the center received $750,000 from the Early Education and Out of School Time Capital Fund, a competitive grant program that funds facility improvement projects for licensed, non-profit centers serving children from low-income families.  More than 86% of children in the EEOST-funded programs are from low-income families. Research shows that high-quality learning environments have a positive impact on the healthy development of young children.

The EEOST grant allowed Catholic Charities to leverage another $1M in funding from foundations and banks to make the essential and necessary improvements to its facilities, provide for planning spaces for the teachers, and add a new welcoming space for families to gather during workshops and open houses, dramatically increasing parent attendance and engagement.

“Our goal as a child care provider is to ensure that families of low-income benefit from the high-quality early childhood education that research tells us to help mitigate the opportunity gap that far too often interferes with a child’s ability to succeed,” said Debbie Rambo, President of Catholic Charities.  “But perhaps one of the benefits that one may not be able to put an immediate price on is the sense that this is now a place that is reflective of respect and self-worth for families living in poverty.”

Giving Children, families and Early Educators a Place to Call Home

Judith Cody, Executive Director of the Beverly Children’s Learning Center, said their $1 million EEOST Capital Fund grant helped them to secure a mortgage from Eastern Bank and a tax-exempt bond through Mass Development, which were both critical to their relocation efforts.  The grant money also helped them to attract other funding, which allowed them to move from inadequate rental space to a well-equipped family-friendly space they own.  The relocation also enabled BCLC to add 20% more students and hire seven additional full-time employees.

“Ownership has given us a sense of permanence in our community,” Cody said. “We are working in long-term strategic planning to assist children and families, rather than thinking in five-year lease terms and often wondering where we would go at lease end.  This agency began in the basement of a local church to support low-income parents as they pursued education or career.  We are proud to be able to continue this mission in a space equal to private early education centers.”

Funding the Future for Low-Income Families

A 2011 report by the Children’s Investment Fund revealed immense challenges facing early learning and out-of-school time facilities across the state, fueling the creation of a new state-funded program to improve the quality of these settings for children.  The Early Education and Out-of-School Time Capital Fund (EEOST) launched in 2014.

Since its inception, the EEOST Capital Fund has provided over $15 million in funding to 21 projects throughout Massachusetts. According to the Children’s Investment Fund, these projects have added 448 slots to the early education and care system in the Commonwealth, improved the quality of learning for 2,036 children, created an estimated 34 educator jobs and 360 construction jobs, and has helped leverage $36 million for communities from foundations, banks and other sources.   $4.1 million of the grants were announced recently by the Baker-Polito administration.

“EEOST plays a key role in creating well-designed and well-equipped learning environments for children, which are essential elements in the development of high-quality services to support the Commonwealth’s ambitious educational agenda and efforts to close the achievement gap,” said Amy O’Leary, Early Education for All Campaign Director at Strategies for Children.  “EEOST helps early education and out-of-school time programs build quality and better serve some of the most vulnerable children in the Commonwealth.”

going forward: meeting the demand

More help is needed.  While 21 projects have received funding, an additional 24 projects serving 3,500 low-income children were not funded.  The EEOST Capital Fund is in its fifth year of a five-year authorization, and there is legislation pending to re-authorize it for another five years.

“There is clearly a continued need for this source of funding and a great desire among our members to improve their facilities and the quality of their programs,” said William Eddy, Executive Director at the Massachusetts Association of Early Education and Care.  “There are many unfunded projects all across the state ready to participate in this fund.”

What’s being done? Yesterday, the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Housing advanced the Housing Bond Bill, which included a re-authorization of $45 million for the EEOST Capital Fund over the next five years.

“The legislation reported out favorably by the Joint Committee on Housing recognizes that the Commonwealth needs an improved and expanded supply of facilities to meet the demands of families across the state who are looking for convenient, high-quality centers for their children,” said Michael K. Durkin, President and CEO at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. “High quality, professional facilities, projects that better utilize existing facilities, and those that add additional space for planning and professional development, will allow the Commonwealth to best compete and retain top-tier educators.”

“Quality early education provides dual benefits through both enhanced school readiness and as an economic stimulus that allows parents to work,” added Eddy. “Our members know the importance of stable housing; economic supports and quality early education; and out of school time services for families in need to succeed.”

What You Can Do

The legislation now moves to the House Committee on Bonding for review.  To learn more, or to help advocate for the EEOST Capital Fund as it advances through the Massachusetts Legislature, contact Khushbu Webber, Director of Policy at United Way, at

Learn more about how United Way helps prepare children to learn»