BOSTON (SHNS) – After a sweeping early education and child care access bill cleared one branch but not the other last session, one of the bill’s cosponsors is hopeful about support for the measure this time around.

The Senate unanimously passed legislation last session aimed at aiding child care and early education providers, fortifying the pipeline of workers entering that field, and helping more families access the costly service that is essential to many working parents. The Senate approved the bill in early July and sent it to the House Ways and Means Committee, where it languished until the end of the session.

Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ron Mariano both signaled in their inaugural speeches that early education would be a priority for their chambers this session, though Mariano stopped short of embracing the expansive proposal backed by the Senate last session.

Rep. Ken Gordon of Bedford, who is co-sponsoring the House’s version of the bill this time around (H 489), said there has been a lot of support from fellow representatives. So far, there are 81 co-sponsors on the House bill and 24 on the Senate bill, according to Amy O’Leary of Strategies for Children.

That’s a majority in each branch, but the bill’s timeline for debate remains murky. Joint committees have missed their deadline to adopt operating rules, the bill hasn’t been scheduled for a public hearing, and legislative leaders have given no indication that they are in a rush to take up the legislation.

“You can see the number of co-sponsors on the bill, the number of my colleagues who have signed on,” Gordon said. “I think it’s a priority for all of us, it’s a question of looking into the details about where the funding comes from, how it’s going to be organized and arranged, and really just the ‘how to’s.’ It’s not about the ‘should we it’s the ‘how to’s.”

The House and Senate (S 301) versions of the bill are similar to the version the Joint Committee on Education passed last session, according to Andrew Farnitano, spokesperson for the early care advocacy group Common Start Coalition.

Both versions would expand subsidies for families to send their child to early care or education programs, permanently establish “direct-to-provider” funding for operating costs, and offer higher salaries and expanded professional development opportunities for early educators.

Under current law, only households that earn 50 percent or less of the state median income — equivalent to about $67,968 annually for a household of four — qualify for subsidies.

The Gordon bill would eventually raise that threshold to 125 percent of the state median income, a level representing about $169,920 annually for a four-person household, and ties the timeline of expanded eligibility to federal funding. The bill also broadly directs the state Department of Early Education and Care to set fees for eligible families that are “affordable,” but the legislation does not specifically define affordability.

A Senate bill cosponsored by Sens. Jason Lewis and Susan Moran would extend eligibility for financial assistance to families making up to 200 percent of state median income — which would extend to upper-middle-class households, who make an average of $271,872 per year in a family of four.

The Senate’s bill would make early childhood care free for all families who live below the federal poverty level, which is currently $30,000 per year for a four-person household. It also aims to define “affordable” fees, limiting the fees to no more than 7 percent of a household’s total income.

When asked why the Senate’s version proposes expanding the subsidies up to 200 percent of state median income, as opposed to the House’s recommended 125 percent, Moran said it would create a more comprehensive program.

“The advantage of covering more people is a more comprehensive program so that we can really get the results that we’re looking for in terms of that zero to five group in particular, really starting off as many kids as possible on a healthy and smart platform moving forward,” Moran said.

There isn’t an exact cost estimate for the bills, since big cost drivers like the family subsidies and direct provider funding are still going through the legislative process, Farnitano said.

But the Common Start Coalition has estimated that the “full implementation of our vision” would require at least $2 billion every year, for several years. Farnitano said the implementation may look similar to the Student Opportunity Act, which adds $1.5 billion to the public education system over seven years.

Parents of young children, early childhood educators, and social service providers spoke at a legislative briefing on Wednesday about how the bill would affect them.

Tiffany Jenkins, a single mother from Hyde Park, said she has a subsidy to afford care for her young daughter, but that fully free early childhood care (as is proposed in the Senate bill for those under the federal poverty line) would help her family.

She’s currently enrolled full-time for her bachelor’s degree in business management, has two part-time jobs, participates in a peer mentoring program, and is raising her daughter alone, she said.

“I have a child care subsidy now that covers a portion of what I have to pay, but we’d be better off if it was free for me. It would allow me to earn my degree faster. It would allow me to save more money and also it would help me get out of poverty,” Jenkins said.

Gordon said more help for families would also benefit both the economy and women in Massachusetts, if one parent did not have to stay home with their children under 5 years old.

“This whole problem has a disparate impact on women. Oftentimes in our workforce, the woman is the lower-paid worker, and so that’s the person that has to choose to stay behind in their career. And then when they get back to work when their children start school, now they’re four years or so behind, and they’re playing catch up in their career and they never do catch up, and it’s part of the reason why we have a wage gap,” Gordon said.

Advocates at the briefing also argued that increasing salaries in the early education sector would positively impact what is a woman-dominated industry.

“More than 150 years ago, with the vision and leadership of Horace Mann, Massachusetts pioneered the revolutionary idea that K-12 education should be a public good, accessible to all children and families,” said Lewis, Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Education. “Now it is time for the Commonwealth to once again lead our nation by establishing that high-quality early education and child care should also be a public good. This investment would yield tremendous benefits for child development and working families, and help foster a stronger, more just economy for all.”