Dec 09, 2016Burlington Free Press
Vermont's child care costs are under the microscope again in a new report that recommends an expansion in state subsidies.
The Blue Ribbon Commission on Financing High-Quality, Affordable Child Care released a 121-page final report Friday, just in time for a new legislative session and governor's administration to consider in January.
Among the takeaways:
1. Families and child care workers are both financially strapped.
The commission's research shows that most Vermont families are unable to afford high-quality early childhood care and learning, citing a national study that ranked Vermont as 13th least affordable for center-based infant care, and 3rd least affordable center-based child care for 4-year-olds.
"This is really an economic development issue for the state," said Charlotte Ancel, vice president for power supply and general counsel at Green Mountain Power, and a member of the blue ribbon commission. Ancel said businesses rely on a young, vibrant workforce that can be hamstrung by the high cost of child care.
High-quality child care is also expensive for child care providers. The commission estimated that it costs a child care center about $35,000 per year to care for an infant or toddler and $15,000 to care for a preschooler. Infant care can cost even more, approximately $41,000 per infant per year, at home-based child cares.
Meanwhile, child care workers are earning wages in line with what maids, housekeepers and retail clerks earn. The median hourly wage for child care providers at licensed centers is $11.25, according to the report. That's less than the median wage for a short order cook.
2. The group recommends that Vermont should nearly double child care assistance, at a cost of $43.5 million more.
The blue ribbon commission is recommending that Vermont increase the budget for child care financial assistance to help thousands of additional families.
The commission would raise the annual child care assistance budget to $90.8 million, about $43.5 million more than the current budget.
Here's what that would mean for a family of four, according to numbers provided by Ancel: Currently a family of four can get 100 percent tuition assistance if they make less than $24,000 per year. The commission would increase that income threshold to $48,000.
In the current system a family of four can receive smaller amounts of tuition help with an income up to $72,000. The commission recommends raising that ceiling to $85,000. Families at the top end of the income scale receive 10 percent tuition assistance.
3. Gov.-elect Phil Scott is sympathetic, but doesn't want to raise taxes.
During his campaign for governor, Phil Scott sympathized with families and employers struggling with child care issues, and he said the state needs to address the problem.
“If we’re serious about investing in our workforce, we need to address the issue of affordable child care," Scott said at an October candidate's forum.
Scott has said early childhood issues are a priority, but instead of raising new taxes he would reallocate existing funds, ask communities to rent out empty school rooms to child care providers, and encourage businesses to create infant child care on-site.
The Republican governor-elect often cites a report that identified opportunities for about $164 million in savings in Vermont's public school system. Scott has suggested using some of that money for child care.
The commission's report describes a similar approach, asking lawmakers to reallocate savings in state government to support Vermont's child care system, then look to community partnerships and fundraising opportunities such as special license plate sales.
Ultimately, the commission wants Vermont to pursue a more comprehensive child care system with robust subsidies. In the meantime, the authors wrote, the group "fully acknowledges the tension between the need to support Vermont's children and families and the broader economic and budgetary realities of the state."