City’s Early Learning Initiative Helps Leverage Federal Funds to Increase Access to Child Care for Burlington Residents; New Center to Begin Operations in Fall 2019
Vermont Business Magazine Mayor Miro Weinberger and community leaders today broke ground on a new, high-quality child care center in the Old North End, which is the result of a collaboration between CVOEO & Champlain Valley Head Start, Burlington Housing Authority, and the City of Burlington’s Early Learning Initiative (ELI). The new center will create 23 total child care spots, made up of 15 spots for children ages three to five years old in the fall of 2019 and eight additional spots for infants and toddlers in the fall of 2020.
These new spaces add to a total number of additional spots that ELI has made possible, including those currently being developed at the YMCA and Sarah Holbrook Community Center. If the City Council approves the second year slate of capacity grants at its June 24 meeting, the Burlington Early Learning Initiative will have supported the creation of 85 new childcare spaces in Burlington since 2018, 70 of which will be infant and toddler spaces. These 85 new spaces will be coming online over the next 18 months.
The Mayor was joined at the groundbreaking by City Councilor Brian Pine (Ward 3), Burlington Housing Authority Director of Properties Chris Barrett, Champlain Valley Head Start Executive Director Paul Behrman, Let’s Grow Kids CEO Aly Richards, and Brian Lowe, the City’s Chief Innovation Officer and person who oversees the ELI program.
“The creation of a new child care center in an underserved area of the City is precisely what we hoped to generate when the City began its Early Learning Initiative in 2015,” said Mayor Weinberger. “It is exciting to see this innovative municipal initiative making a real impact, and significantly expanding the number of spaces available for Burlington families who need child care.”
“Champlain Valley Head Start (CVHS) is delighted at this incredible opportunity to better serve children and families in this section of Burlington’s Old North End,” said Paul Behrman. “With support from Burlington Housing Authority, the City’s Early Learning Initiative, and the federal Office of Head Start, the new CVHS facility will increase our capacity to provide high-quality, early care and education services for children ages birth to five, coordination of children’s health services, and social service support for families. We hope to see the new Head Start center become a source of joy and support, and add to the quality of life in the community.”
“Affordable child care has been a struggle since I raised my kids in this neighborhood, and I’m glad to see an outstanding program like Head Start planning to open its doors here in just a few months,” said Ward 3 City Councilor Brian Pine. “The City is taking some forceful steps to address a long-standing problem, and I’m pleased to support the Mayor on this effort.”
“Let’s Grow Kids is honored to partner with the City of Burlington on the Early Learning Initiative and we commend Mayor Weinberger’s leadership and focus on this crucial issue,” said Aly Richards, CEO of Let’s Grow Kids, which helped the City design the Early Learning Initiative and provides critical technical support for the project. “We know now that early childhood is our best chance to create the ultimate level playing field. Burlington’s ELI project is an example of the kind of determination and innovation we are going to need to solve our state’s child care crisis. The lessons we learn here will help us hone the statewide solution our children need and deserve.” Let’s Grow Kids is a statewide movement working to achieve affordable access to high-quality child care for all Vermont families by 2025.
CVOEO/Champlain Valley Head Start is one of four organizations selected to receive a capacity grant this year, which the City will bring before the City Council to consider on Monday, June 24. The CVOEO/Champlain Valley Head Start proposal leverages $90,849 in City funding and $249,000 in federal funds to renovate an existing building in an area of the City without sufficient child care options.
The City’s Early Learning Initiative is made up of two pieces: One, capacity grants to assist organizations with creating new high-quality child care spots in Burlington, and two, the First Steps Scholarship Program to connect children from low-income families with that care and new capacity. The City has developed this approach in response to input from a wide range of community stakeholders, and with it, is implementing a multi-pronged solution to tackle a many-layered problem. ELI is funded through existing City resources from payment-in-lieu of taxes (PILOT) funds, and does not increase the City’s operating costs.
The following sections provide detail on the proposed 2019 grants, an update on the pilot year of the ELI First Steps Scholarship Program, and background on the ELI effort.
Capacity Grant Program
This is the second year of the capacity grant program. Last year, the City awarded grants to seven child care providers to strengthen and expand high-quality child care opportunities in Burlington for children from birth to three years old as part of a process that incorporated substantial public feedback and adjustments.
This year, $210,000 in capacity grants will support the creation of at least 23 new spots.
The four grants for FY2019 that the City Council will consider at its June 24 meeting are as follows:
1. New High-Quality Child Care Center in the Old North End: Proposed by the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity (CVOEO) and Champlain Valley Head Start (CVHS) in cooperation with the Burlington Housing Authority, this project would use a combination of City and Federal dollars to create a new, high-quality child care center at 216 Intervale Ave. (part of the 669 Riverside Ave. complex). The project would bring 15 spots for children ages three to five years old online in September 2019, and eight infant and toddler spots online in the fall of 2020 in an underserved area of the City. The City is proposing awarding $90,849 to support the fit-up costs of this new site. The Office of Head Start will supply an additional $249,000 in federal funds for the renovation, and BHA is providing substantial in-kind contributions including site work, legal review of the lease terms, and assistance with advancing the project through the City’s development review process.
2. Preservation and Foundation for Future Expansion: The second grant proposed is a preservation grant made to Burlington Children’s Space (BCS) in the Old North End. Last year, the City awarded BCS $75,000 to support BCS’s purchase of their building and the retirement of a balloon debt payment. The acquisition substantially reduces BCS’s annual operating costs and gives the center greater flexibility to expand in the future. Over the past year, at the encouragement of the Grant Committee as a requirement of the first $75,000 in support, BCS completed an intensive business planning process that helped improve the organization’s operating profile, support the building acquisition, and support increases in teacher pay. In combination with increases in the State child care financial assistance program and potential new revenues from the City scholarship program, BCS’s prospects are even brighter and the possibility of future expansion is more realistic.
3. Adapting, Strengthening, and Laying the Groundwork for Future Expansion: The third grant addresses a critical need for Pine Forest Children’s Center and galvanizes an important expansion project. Situated in the South End, Pine Forest serves a diverse population of families, a high percentage of whom are eligible for child care financial assistance. The center is currently bursting at the seams and watching their parking lot become busier and less conducive to child care. The new City Market and expanding businesses have brought more traffic to the area and with it concerns of child safety and access to crucial outdoor play. Pine Forest has partnered with a third party and secured a signed Memorandum of Understanding to explore an expanded program at a nearby property in the same area of the City. The proposed $20,000 grant will provide the center with necessary funds to develop architectural drawings for a new building and begin capital campaign fundraising. This grant would assist one of the few South End centers as plans its expansion to serve more Burlington families.
4. Leveraging New Resources with an Innovative, Complementary Program: A City department is coming in for the fourth capacity grant this year, looking to expand the City’s early childhood education reach. The Fletcher Free Library (FFL) has requested $17,332 to expand their established Early Learning Outreach Program (ELOP), with an additional $30,500 leveraged from private donations. This literacy program travels to 0-3 STAR rated home-based child care centers offering modeling, respite, support and encouragement to the home care providers. The evidence-based enrichment curriculum reaches a population not directly engaged by other ELI efforts, and expands the City’s reach into the early learning realm. Employees and trained volunteers have already reached 40 children and 7 providers with the goal of doubling the reach in the coming year. The program is designed to introduce new families to the library while at the same time strengthening provider resources and improving STAR ratings.
The Grant Committee, listed in alphabetical order below, is composed of community members and representatives from different organizations with various perspectives on early childhood education.
· Kristin Fontaine, Pediatric Outreach Coordinator, University of Vermont Medical Center
· Phelan Fretz, Executive Director, ECHO Leahy Center
· Brian Lowe, Chief Innovation Officer, City of Burlington
· Sarah Muyskens, Parks Foundation Board Member
· Brian Pine, City Councilor and Chair of the Council’s CDNR Committee
· Becca Schrader, Business Resource Manager, Vermont Community Loan Fund
First Steps Scholarship Program Update
The second part of ELI is the First Steps Scholarship Program, which focuses on connecting low-income Burlington children with high-quality child care. The Council reviewed and approved the budget and program for the ELI First Steps Scholarship Program in March 2019.
Since that approval, the City has completed an application process that opened on March 1, 2019 and closed April 26, 2019. In the pilot year of the scholarship program, the City’s aim is to provide one-year scholarships to about 20 Burlington children, focusing on those children born between August 31, 2017 and July 1, 2019. Currently, the City and Let’s Grow Kids have secured spots for all 18 eligible applicants and are now working to make sure the spots match the families’ needs. The City also plans to re-open the application process for a slightly broader age range and build a waiting list of families interested in accessing additional spaces that may become available during the year. Building on what is learned in the pilot year, the City plans to refine and expand the program in future years.
The pilot year of the First Steps Scholarship Program is an exciting and welcomed challenge. Outreach, communication, and flexibility have proven to be key. Based on the results of this pilot year and the evaluation process being developed with Let’s Grow Kids, key community stakeholders, and a local economist, the City intends to leverage additional funding from other private, institutional, and public sources to provide scholarships for high-quality early care to young children living in poverty to expand the impact and public returns of the ELI effort.
Early Learning Initiative Background
Through this innovative municipal initiative, the City aims to address the opportunity gap that is faced by low-income children across the country and also here in Burlington. Research has consistently shown the benefits of investments in early childhood education, which lead to improvements in a wide range of social, economic, health, and education-related outcomes. However, there are many barriers to the access and affordability of high-quality care, one of which is simply that there are not enough spaces available. The City’s research has shown that though about 350 children are born in Burlington each year, fewer than 200 child care spaces are available for children from birth through age three.
As access to and affordability of high-quality childhood education has been identified as a critical issue nationwide, cities around the country have been leading the way in developing solutions. At the same time, the Burlington Early Learning Initiative is unique nationally in its focus on infants and toddlers, and aims to address the particularly severe shortage of high-quality and affordable early care and learning spaces for children from birth through age three.
Source: Burlington, VT – Mayor Miro Weinberger 6.17.2019