Dec 15, 2016Times Argus | Rutland Herald
MONTPELIER — A new report says Vermont should appropriate significantly more than the $130 million in state and federal funds it currently spends on early child care to help all Vermonters up to age 5 receive equal access.
The report from The Blue Ribbon Commission on Financing High Quality, Affordable Child Care, required by Act 58 in 2015, states that ensuring access to quality child care is “an economic and social imperative” for the state. The commission met throughout the past 16 months to study best practices and develop recommendations to lawmakers and the governor on how to improve Vermont’s system of early child care.
According to the report, more than 36,000 children from birth to age 5 live in Vermont but nearly half — 47 percent — of all infants and toddlers that are likely to need care do not have access to any regulated child care program. The state has a need to increase investments to bring new jobs to Vermont and keep young Vermonters in the state. Investing in early care and learning can create “a more favorable work environment for working families with children while also investing in the future workforce,” the report states.
Improving early child care can minimize future costs in public education, health care and the state’s corrections system, the report found. Children who receive early child care and learning opportunities tend to score high on school-readiness tests, are 40 percent less likely to need special education and are 70 percent less likely to commit a violent crime by age 18, according to the report.
The commission estimated the cost of care for infants at an early child care center to be $35,535 for infants and toddlers and $15,793 for pre-schoolers. Estimated costs for home-based child care is $41,640 for infants, $20,820 for toddlers and $13,880 for pre-schoolers.
Using those figures, the commission estimated the total statewide cost of providing child care to all 36,607 children in those age groups to be about $850 million. That is significantly more than the $130 million in combined state and federal funding currently being spent. If all children in Vermont were accessing care as envisioned by the commission, the panel estimated that families would contribute nearly $372 million toward the overall cost, leaving approximately another $348 million to be raised from new sources.
Meanwhile, the commission found families should spend no more than 10 percent of income on child care. But in Vermont, families typically pay between 25 percent and 53 percent of their median income to access early care and learning programs, based on costs from the 2014 market rate survey.
The commission included three major recommendations in its report:
— Make immediate, incremental investments in high quality, affordable early care and learning;
— Begin designing and implementing a future early care and learning system; and,
— Review and act on potential financing mechanisms.
The immediate investments recommended by the commission included providing a 100 percent early care benefit under the Child Care Financial Assistance Program to families earning up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, which is currently about $60,000. Also, it recommended a 50 percent benefit to families earning up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level and tapering off to no benefit at 350 percent of the federal poverty level.
The commission recommended that stakeholders, including the administration and lawmakers, develop a “comprehensive, inclusive, voluntary, high-quality, affordable early childhood system for all children.”
Finally, the commission recommended reallocating savings found through efficiencies in state government to help fund the additional costs. Also, it suggested pursuing public-private partnerships, philanthropic investments, offering specialty early care license plates and pursuing additional Medicaid money through the state’s global commitment waiver with the federal government. It suggested exploring additional revenue sources, but did not offer any specific options.
The report found that the state should also make investments on the supply side of early child care. Through its public forums, surveys and post care responses, the commission found the public has trouble finding early child care providers. Access is a problem around the state, including in Chittenden County, where parents often find waiting lists.
Ethan Latour, spokesman for Republican Gov.-elect Phil Scott, who will be sworn into office early next month, said Scott’s administration plans to review the recommendations and determine what can be accomplished.
“We know what the recommendation is and we know that there’s been a lot of analysis about what the state is spending currently and what Vermonters are spending currently, but the number is big as far as the public option. We’ve identified it as a priority and we want to see if we can achieve some of the goals they outlined with existing resources,” Latour said.