Improving the state of early childhood education in Vermont is a pressing issue, one that has far-reaching consequences. Creating access to high-quality, affordable child care options for all Vermonters is essential to improving the economic landscape of the state, but we need a holistic approach that includes support from many sources such as business, government, caregivers and nonprofits.
Times have changed: Seventy-two percent of children under the age of 6 have two working parents, and most of those parents depend on child care outside of the home to keep their jobs. This makes child care a critical workforce issue, like health insurance and retirement savings, impacting productivity and satisfaction. Without reliable, affordable options, some working parents are unable to achieve the productivity that Vermont businesses need.
In addition, we face a shortage of highly trained professionals willing to move, work, live and raise their children in Vermont due to the lack of quality child care options. Making sure every child has a high-quality early experience paired with Vermont’s quality of life will position the state as a true competitor in today’s complex marketplace.
Numerous studies have calculated a $7 to $10 return for every dollar invested in early childhood education, through savings on remedial education and grade repetition. This pays off over time, with increased productivity and future adult earnings. Studies show that children with high-quality early learning experiences in the first five years of life have better language, math and social skills than their peers — skills needed by Vermont’s employers and communities.
Investing in children now means a productive, competitive workforce and community in years to come. Without such investments, taxpayers will face a growing financial burden associated with the negative outcomes of not investing in the first five years: dependence on social services, substance abuse and crime. Tax money allocated to addressing these problems drains resources from businesses, their clients and customers — money we cannot afford to spend.
At National Life Group, we have a subsidized child care center across the street from our headquarters. We’re proud to be able to offer this benefit, but we also realize that not all of our employees who need child care can take advantage of this. It could be due to the waiting list or the simple fact that it might be inconvenient for parents to drive their child from their home in Chittenden or Lamoille county 45 minutes to Montpelier.
So the question then becomes how we can, as major Vermont employers, provide realistic options that benefit the child, the parent and the business? How can we as a community weave a net of support so children receive high-quality care, parents have affordable and suitable options, and businesses can benefit from parents who are more engaged and productive because child care is no longer a worry?
This is an issue that needs attention. We are already seeing focused interest from important sources, with Gov. Shumlin including a blue ribbon commission to research financing options for high-quality, affordable child care in his 2016 budget, and President Obama calling it a “national economic priority” in his State of the Union address. The message is clear: We cannot afford inaction. I urge you to support the blue ribbon commission legislation, to help build positive, lasting change for Vermont’s families, communities and economy.
Beth Rusnock is president of the National Life Group Charitable Foundation.