BOSTON (WWLP) – Preschool is not mandatory in Massachusetts, but supporters want to ensure every child has a chance at early education.

Early education advocates hope to restore funding to state programs that target children younger than five. The “Head Start” program provides pre-kindergarten education and child care to families who otherwise cannot afford it.

“It’s a problem for the young people, for the students who are starting school already five steps behind,” said State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Boston).

Under the Governor’s budget proposal, the “Head Start” program receives $8 million dollars, $1 million dollars less than last year. The State Department of Early Education and Care also saw a $5 million dollar spending cut. “Early Education for All” director Amy O’Leary told 22News that even the smallest cuts could hurt early education. She said “because early education is so underfunded, cuts, small cuts would have a big impact.”

The Governor’s spending plan offers no solution to help 17,000 Massachusetts children on a wait-list for state-funded preschool. Boston State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz believes better access to early education will reduce unemployment in the state.

“We know that access to child care is one of the number one barriers for people to become successfully employed.”

State lawmakers will hold a series of public budget hearings before making changes to the Governor’s spending plan. A public hearing is scheduled at the UMass Center in Springfield on Thursday, April 9.