BURLINGTON—Advocates for high-quality, affordable childcare are gearing up to support the work of a new Blue Ribbon Commission established by legislation Governor Peter Shumlin signed June 11 as part of Vermont’s 2016 budget bill.
The job of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Financing High Quality, Affordable Child Care is to determine the hallmarks of a quality childcare program and to recommend to the Legislature and Governor strategies to support affordable, quality childcare in Vermont. The commission is expected to begin its work this summer and to issue a report by November 1, 2016.
“As part of a broad coalition of organizations and individuals working to provide Vermonters with quality, affordable childcare, Let’s Grow Kids is grateful to the Legislature and the Governor for their leadership on this cause,” said Robyn Freedner-Maguire, campaign director of Let’s Grow Kids, a non-profit statewide education campaign raising Vermonters’ understanding of the importance of every child’s earliest years.
“We are ready to support the commission with their work and look forward to helping turn their recommendations into real results for Vermont’s children,” said Freedner-Maguire. “We invite Vermonters to join us to ensure that the system serves everyone well.”
The commission includes the secretaries of Vermont’s agencies of Education, Administration, and Human Services or their designees along with a cross-section of Vermont policymakers, childcare providers, parents, and business representatives to be appointed by the Governor. Its work will focus on the crucial first five years of a child’s life, when approximately 90 percent of brain development occurs. Research shows that quality early experiences can promote healthy development in children—ensuring that they don’t start their school years lagging behind.
Unfortunately, the evidence is mounting that high-quality childcare is inaccessible and unaffordable for many Vermonters.
- According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 70 percent of Vermont’s children under age six are in families where all parents either work or are seeking work.
- While this Census data indicates that 26,000 Vermont children under the age of 6 are in need of childcare, licensed childcare providers have the capacity to serve only 40 percent of those children, according to Building Bright Futures—Vermont’s public-private Early Childhood Advisory Council and statewide network.
- Even when high-quality childcare is available, it’s hard for Vermonters to afford. A recent report from Building Bright Futures found that a Vermont family with two working adults and two children making $47,700 (200% of the federal poverty level for a family of four) spends 40 percent of its annual income on childcare, while the same family making Vermont’s median income for a family of four, $82,047, still needs to dedicate 28 percent of its income to childcare.
The impact of these challenges is clear: According to the Vermont Agency of Education, 40 to 50 percent of Vermont’s children enter kindergarten unprepared.
“As the Blue Ribbon Commission moves forward, one thing we as a state will have to confront is how willing we are to gamble with our children’s future: Should we seize the opportunity to make quality childcare more accessible and affordable now, or should we pay much more down the road when children enter school unprepared?” said Freedner-Maguire.
For Mark Curran, founder and co-owner of Black River Produce in North Springfield, an investment in childcare today makes good business sense.
“Right now, employers need to trust that their workers will be on the job rather than out with their children because of a lack of stable, quality childcare,” said Curran. “Longer term, employers need a reliable, skilled workforce that didn’t start their education unprepared.”
Samantha and Ryan Eayrs of South Burlington, VT, have learned the hard way about the tough choices childcare poses for working parents. With both Samantha and Ryan working to make ends meet, the couple struggles to afford $800 per month for childcare for their two-year old son, Brodrik.
“We want our son to have a great start in life, so we feel like we’re sacrificing for something that is important to us,” said Samantha Eayrs. “But it’s stressful to make it all work.”
Vermonters can sign up to tell their own stories about access to childcare—and can stay up to date about the Blue Ribbon Commission and other developments around early childhood issues—at www.letsgrowkids.org.
Let’s Grow Kids aims to raise understanding of the importance of the earliest years in the lives of Vermont’s children. Funded by a collaboration of private foundations, Let’s Grow Kids is working with Vermont communities, organizations, businesses, and individuals to create positive, lasting change that will allow all of our children to succeed in life. Founded in 2014, Let’s Grow Kids has:
- Gathered nearly 4,400 signatures on a pledge to support giving every Vermont child a strong start;
- Signed up more than 550 volunteer ambassadors who support the campaign by attending events, writing letters to the editor, and educating friends and neighbors;
- Trained more than 170 “Changemakers”—advocates who learn about the legislative process and how to effectively create lasting change on behalf of Vermont’s children;
- Mobilized volunteers to promote the campaign at 67 polling places on town Meeting Day, 2015;
- Offered more than 80 presentations around the state by more than 40 members of a speakers bureau who speak about the campaign and the importance of early childhood;
- Launched a media campaign with opinion pieces and letters in Vermont newspapers and statewide advertisements on television, radio, and digital media—including a television advertisement that the Vermont Association of Broadcasters recently honored as the best in its class for 2015.
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