Vermont needs young families, they need quality child care

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Vermont needs young families, they need quality child care

Sat, 01/06/2018 - 1:24pm -- tim

by Robyn Freedner-Maguire If we want to make Vermont the top choice of young workers looking for the best place to work and raise their families, increasing access to high-quality, affordable child care is the smartest, most strategic investment we can make. In his 2018 State of the State address, Governor Phil Scott announced a new campaign to persuade young people and families to move to Vermont with the goal of growing the state’s dwindling working-age population.

If the cornerstone of our economic development strategy is attracting more young workers to Vermont, we also need more high-quality, affordable child care so those workers can work and businesses have access to a skilled, reliable workforce.

Vermont has a critical shortage of high-quality, affordable early care and learning opportunities; almost half of infants and toddlers likely to need care don’t have access to any regulated child care programs and nearly 80% don’t have access to high-quality programs. For a family with young children looking to relocate, these numbers aren’t exactly reassuring.

Governor Scott also talked about Vermont’s cost of living being among the highest in the nation. The high cost of child care is a major contributing factor to Vermont’s affordability crisis. In 2016, child care was the single biggest budget item—more expensive than housing, food, transportation or health care—for Vermont households with two working parents and two young children. A 2017 report on Vermont’s economy found that lack of access to affordable child care is keeping low-income parents out of the workforce and depriving businesses of workers. The report found the high cost of child care is forcing some families to cut back on other basic needs such as food or health care.

When I think about the families and businesses grappling with child care challenges, I’m reminded of countless stories I’ve heard from parents across Vermont. Stories like that of Jennifer Galusha in Rutland County who told us that even as she watched her son flourish in the care of nurturing early educators and that she had peace leaving her son in good hands each day while she worked, the financial stress of paying for child care became overwhelming.

Despite receiving help from Vermont’s Child Care Financial Assistance Program (CCFAP), a program designed to help families afford quality child care, Jennifer struggled each month to pay for child care and cover the rest of her family’s living expenses. She’s not alone. Vermont families are spending up to 40% of their incomes on child care, even with CCFAP help, because this program has been underfunded for so many years.

We need to invest more into CCFAP to make the program a viable support for families. In his State of the State, Governor Scott pointed to last year’s $2.5 million funding increase for CCFAP as a sign of progress in moving toward his vision of a “cradle to career” education system to strengthen Vermont’s current and future workforce. We appreciate Governor Scott’s emphasis on the need to increase investments in early care and learning and are grateful to the Legislature for passing last year’s CCFAP funding increase, which was an important step in the right direction. However, there remains a $9.2 million funding gap that needs to be closed to bring CCFAP reimbursement rates in line with the current cost of child care.

Until we close the $9.2 million gap, some families receiving CCFAP tuition assistance will still be spending up to 40% of their income on child care. Vermonters view this as a priority. In a recent poll of Vermonters, 70% supported increasing CCFAP funding to close this gap. We must continue to seek ways to invest in child care so that it is high quality and affordable for families, which is why Let’s Grow Kids is part of a group through the Vermont Early Childhood Alliance calling on the state to invest $9.2 million in CCFAP to close the funding gap and to support working families.

Additionally, we simply do not have enough child care and we are not attracting enough professionals to the field because of the low pay. The average Vermont child care worker earns less than $27,000 a year, which is not a livable wage. We must reverse this trend if we want to attract families to the state. Let’s Grow Kids is supporting the Vermont Association for the Education of Young Children (VtAEYC) efforts to secure $320,000 for the T.E.A.C.H. Vermont program, which increases high-quality early care and learning opportunities for Vermont’s children by helping providers seek advanced training and credentials. The financial assistance provided by T.E.A.C.H. is critical to supporting the professional development of Vermont’s early care and learning workforce and supporting the workforce is foundational to making high-quality, affordable child care available for all families who need it.

When it comes to bolstering Vermont’s workforce and addressing affordability, investing in early care and learning is a proven, long-term solution. Unlike any other field or industry, child care is unique in that, without it, Vermont businesses and their employees cannot work. When you invest in the child care system, you’re investing in Vermont’s economy.

We need Vermonters to speak up and tell their legislators these are smart and necessary investments in Vermont’s children, families, communities and economy. Visit our website at www.letsgrowkids.org where you can: Join over 12,000 Vermonters by signing our Petition in support of prioritizing kids and increasing public investments in high-quality, affordable child care, and use our legislator look-up tool to find your legislators and send them an email.

Robyn Freedner-Maguire is the Campaign Director for Let’s Grow Kids, a statewide campaign about the need for more high-quality, affordable child care in Vermont to better support our children, families, communities and economy. She lives in Burlington.