Improving the state of early childhood education in Vermont is a pressing issue, and one that has far-reaching consequences. As the executive director of a local non-profit, I understand that creating access to high-quality, affordable childcare options for all Vermonters is essential to improving the economic landscape of the state.
Times have changed: 72% of children under the age of 6 have all of their parents in the workforce, and most of those parents depend on childcare outside of the home in order to keep their jobs. This makes childcare a critical workforce issue, like health insurance and retirement savings, impacting worker productivity and satisfaction. Without reliable, affordable options, 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. 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 $7-10 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.
Having been a parent, raising four daughters while also balancing working full time and going to school, I can appreciate the importance of quality childcare and family friendly workplaces. Having quality childcare for my children when they were young allowed me to go to work with the peace of mind that my children were in a safe and nurturing environment. This allowed me to be fully present and focused at work. As an employer, I know that when an employee can be fully present at work they are much more productive. As we all know, life happens and sometimes as a parent there are unanticipated demands placed on our time such as needing to leave work to pick up a sick child from school. Knowing that I could request and be granted time off for taking a child to medical or dental appointments, attending a parent teacher conference or participating in a child's field trip allowed me to be a participating parent in my children's lives. Active parent engagement is a strong success indicator for children, a win-win for all involved. As an employee, working for an organization that understood this was critical. As an employer, supporting employee's family needs is good business.
I urge my fellow business owners/managers and Vermonters to push this issue into the spotlight. We are already seeing attention from important sources, with Governor Shumlin including a Blue Ribbon Commission to research financing options for high-quality, affordable childcare 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.
Michelle Tarryk is executive director of Northeast Kingdom Learning Services, Inc. in Newport, Vt.