Apr 04, 2017VT Digger
It’s disheartening to watch Vermont legislators missing yet another opportunity to address the serious obstacles preventing too many Vermont children from getting a strong start.
Even though we know from a recent Vermont-specific report that every dollar invested to expand the state’s early care and learning programs would yield $3.08 in return, the House passed a budget bill last week that includes no additional funding to make child care in Vermont more affordable or accessible.
At the same time, a bill passed out of the House Education committee this session threatens to undo the great strides we’ve already made for young children under Vermont’s universal pre-K law.
This is the wrong direction for Vermont’s children, families, communities and the economy. When it comes to the state’s early care and learning system, we can’t afford to maintain the status quo and we certainly can’t afford to backtrack on the progress we’ve made.
The new report, Vermont’s Early Care and Learning Dividend, is consistent with decades of national research that tells us supporting children’s healthy development in the first years is the best antidote to state spending on things like special education, health care, social welfare programs and the criminal justice system. In addition to these savings, revenue is generated when the children served gain higher educational attainment and improved performance in the workforce. All this money adds up.
That $3.08 return Vermont would see on every dollar invested to expand early care and learning programs would total $1.3 billion in net benefits over the working lifetime of the children.
Considering the big picture challenges facing Vermont’s economy and workforce, aligning our budgetary priorities in a way that best supports economic growth is imperative. Let’s Grow Kids’ new white paper, “Growing Vermont’s Kids: A Policy Vision for Vermont’s Early Care & Learning System,” presents that way. It lays out the current challenges and the opportunities to fix them. It also presents next steps that legislators can take immediately to remediate foundational problems impacting Vermonters today; most notably:
- Begin addressing the critical issues of access, quality and affordability by increasing funding for Vermont’s Child Care Financial Assistance Program (CCFAP) by $9.5 million. This increase will address the current funding gap in the program. The increase would align tuition assistance rates with current market rates and match income eligibility guidelines to the most current federal poverty guidelines––two of the most urgent needs identified by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Financing High Quality, Affordable Child Care.
- Strengthen and grow Vermont’s early childhood workforce by allocating at least $410,000 annually for Vermont’s T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood project to sustain the program. This funding would provide scholarships to students pursuing degrees in early care and learning-related fields of study.
Funding increases in the fiscal year 2018 state budget are only the first step in what must be a multi-year plan. Let’s Grow Kids also supports the Blue Ribbon Commission’s recommendation for Building Bright Futures, advisor to the Governor, Administration and Legislature on Vermont’s early childhood systems, to lead a discovery process to evaluate, design and implement an equitable, voluntary, high-quality, affordable birth to five early care and learning system in Vermont. That work, which is slated to begin this summer, will bring together policymakers, early childhood experts, educators and community members who share the belief that strengthening our state’s economic foundation begins with giving our children a strong start.
As a state, we have allocated too few resources to support our youngest children, their families and the critical early childhood professionals who provide the quality early care and learning programming essential to prepare our kids for future success.
Now is the time to change course. We must invest our resources in ways that will support Vermont’s current and future workforce. This is a sure way to improve our state’s economy now and for future generations.
It’s time to make our kids our number one priority. Our future depends on them.