The marathon 2017 Vermont legislative session has officially drawn to a close and Vermont’s youngest children had a strong finish! Thanks to the important conversations that you’ve had with your friends, family, neighbors and elected officials, and the hard work of our dedicated volunteers, more members of the Legislature and the Administration have made a commitment to address Vermont’s child care challenges. This support resulted in real, positive legislative change, which brings us one step closer to ensuring all Vermont children have access to high-quality, affordable early care and learning opportunities.
Supporting the Healthy Development of Children
The Legislature took three steps forward to better support Vermont’s youngest children by investing $2.5 million to make high-quality, early care and learning programs more affordable for families:
- Approval of $2.2 million to fund a new grant program for Vermont’s regulated early care and learning providers participating in STARS who care for infants and toddlers receiving tuition assistance through the Child Care Financial Assistance Program (CCFAP). The grant program will provide funding to center-based child care and preschool programs and family child care homes based on criteria identified by the Legislature. The grant program will be administered by the Department for Children and Families Child Development Division (CDD) and will go into effect later this summer.
- An increase in funding for CCFAP to expand the income eligibility guidelines for the program, meaning more families will be eligible for assistance. The approximately $300,000 funding increase will allow CDD to adjust the income eligibility criteria for the program from the 2016 federal poverty guidelines to 2017 federal poverty guidelines. As a result, some families will be eligible for more tuition assistance and some families who are currently unable to participate in the program will now be eligible. The new income eligibility criteria will go into effect later this summer.
- Passing a bill that will help more families retain their child care tuition assistance. H.326 says that CDD should not count higher education savings accounts as financial assets when determining a family’s continuing eligibility for CCFAP. This will allow families to invest in their children’s college savings without losing eligibility for child care tuition assistance.
Children and families across the state are benefitting from universal pre-K. Based on initial data (this school year was the first year of full implentation of universal pre-K), we know that more children have access to high-quality programs because of this important educational benefit. Central to its success are the partnerships that school districts have with community early care and learning programs. To strengthen pre-K, the Legislature adjusted two early care and learning system policies:
- Legislators resolved a redundant and time-consuming process for providers by streamlining the fingerprint-supported criminal record checks for regulated early care and learning professionals who provide universal pre-K through Act 166. Previously, regulated early care and learning providers needed to complete fingerprint-informed criminal records checks for both the Agency of Human Services (AHS) and the Agency of Education (AOE). New legislation ensures that most early care and learning providers who offer pre-K under Act 166 will only need to complete one fingerprint-informed criminal records check.
- Legislators updated requirements for schools and early care and learning providers to become prequalified to provide pre-K programming. The revised requirements will allow programs with at least 3 stars in the STep Ahead Recognition System (STARS)—the state’s early care and learning quality recognition and improvement system—to become prequalified if they have a plan to get to at least 4 stars with two points in each of the five arenas that STARS evaluates within three years (previously, programs only had two years to achieve this goal). Four-star programs that do not have two points in each of the five STARS arenas will also be able to work with AHS and AOE to develop quality improvement plans in order to obtain or maintain their pre-K prequalification.
The Legislature also noted the need to better understand Vermont’s current universal pre-K program. To help inform future decisions regarding pre-K, the Legislature has requested that AHS and AOE jointly present recommendations to several legislative committees regarding the equity, quality and affordability of the current program and how to reduce duplication and complexity in the system. These recommendations are due on or before November 1 of this year.
Another bill that would have made sweeping changes to pre-K in Vermont was not passed by the Legislature; it will remain under consideration in the House Human Services Committee until next year. Stay tuned!
Supporting Young Children and Families Who Face Trauma and Other Adverse Experiences
In addition to the legislative work done in support of high-quality, affordable child care, we’re thankful for the attention paid to the health and wellbeing of children and families.
The Legislature passed H.508, a bill that will better support young children and their families who face adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). ACEs can have short-term and long-term impacts on the health and development of children. To strengthen Vermont’s systems and programs, the legislation will form an ACEs Working Group. The working group will research and analyze Vermont’s current resources that help to address ACEs (including early care and learning programs) with the help of AHS and others. Based on the findings of the work group, AHS will develop an ACEs response plan to present to the Legislature in January 2019. The plan will help to strengthen resources for children and families and better identify children who may be experiencing trauma.
The bill also recommends that the State Colleges and University of Vermont’s College of Medicine, College of Nursing and Health Sciences, and College of Education and Social Services include information in their curricula about ACEs and their impact on short- and long-term physical and mental health outcomes. This means that health care providers, social workers and educators—including early care and learning professionals—who attend school in Vermont will receive more education on how ACEs impact development.
The 2017 legislative session is proof that our mighty campaign has come a long way, all thanks to the hard work of our tireless supporters. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but with your help, we know we’ll get there. Our kids are counting on it!