Dec 9, 2016

Blue Ribbon Commission on affordable child care issues report

Child care in Vermont costs too much and workers get paid too little. A report released today on early child care in Vermont says that equitable early care and learning for all Vermont children ages birth to five is the most significant opportunity for the state to make systemic and dynamic improvements that will foster economic development, advance social and community well-being, and provide the greatest positive impact for future generations. The report also suggests that the state nearly double its investment to just over $90 million (the current budget for CCFAP in State Fiscal Year 2017 is $47.3 million; an additional $43.5 million would be needed to fund the proposed changes.)

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Financing High Quality, Affordable Child Care has concluded its 15-month long research into Vermont’s current early care and learning system. The Commission first convened in September 2015 and its 15 members were statutorily charged with determining what high quality programs in Vermont look like currently, what components of high quality programs should be included in the future, determining family affordability for that highest level of quality, and putting forth financing recommendations to the Legislature and incoming Administration.

Nationally, Vermont ranks as the 13th least-affordable state for infant care, and 3rd least-affordable for 4-year old care. Before any tuition assistance, Vermont families pay anywhere between 25 percent and 53 percent of their income to send an infant and a 4-year old to full-time, center-based care. Vermont is also experiencing a childcare shortage: 47 percent of infants and toddlers likely to need care, do not have access to any regulated programs, and 79 percent don’t have access to programs recognized as high quality. A high quality early care and learning system not only provides children with a strong foundation in their early years, it is also intricately woven with small businesses, parents, and providers who strengthen and contribute to the economy.

In recent years, Vermont has focused on investing in young children through strategic investment in resources and time toward early care and learning. Key accomplishments include, but are not limited to, the development of Vermont’s Early Childhood Framework and Action Plan,1 the implementation of the STARS quality rating and improvement system, the passage of Act 166, universal prekindergarten, and receipt and implementation of initiatives through the $36.9 million Federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant.4 Vermont made great strides towards investing in early care and learning, the Commission believes the state can do more. The Commission’s work aligns with the Early Childhood Framework and Action plan and efforts to provide equal access to high quality care for all children birth to five in Vermont.

Vermont’s policymakers and citizens have a clear course for shaping the future of the state’s economy and the health and well-being of families through strategic investments in high quality affordable early care and learning. Investment in early care and learning is good for Vermont. Businesses benefit by employing parents who can focus on work because they are assured their children are in a safe, nurturing setting. Moreover, young children, the future workforce, are developing a critical foundation for success.

Child care is not just babysitting; it is critical learning and development for future generations. The science is clear, high quality early care and learning matters:

  • In the first few years of life, 700-1,000 new neural connections are formed every second- this is the foundation upon which all learning, behavior and health depend;5
  • At 18 months of age, disparities in vocabulary begin to appear for children not exposed to high quality care;
  • 90-100 percent chance of development delays when children experience multiple risk factors of maltreatment;6
  • Children who face significant adverse experiences (more than 7-8) have 3:1 odds of adult heart disease after adverse childhood experiences;7 and
  • $4-9 in returns for every dollar invested in early childhood programs.

The Commission’s report seeks to provide a clear definition of high quality child care, the estimated cost of providing that care to all Vermont children birth through the age 5, and a clear picture on the major gap in investment to support equal access to high quality care.

The Commission reports that early care and learning is critical to the economic and community wellbeing of Vermont. Every dollar spent on high-quality early care and learning programs yields a return on investment that ranges from $4 - $9. Currently there are over 36,000 children birth to age 5 in Vermont: 6,023 infants, 12,224 toddlers, and 18,360 preschoolers. These children and families have access to approximately 1,500 licensed and registered programs (46% center-based, 54% home-based).

As of July 2016, 31.9% of all early care and learning programs have a 4 or 5 STAR high quality designation. Nearly half (47%) of all infants and toddlers likely-to-need-care do not have access to any regulated early care program. Currently Vermont spends $130 million through state and federal investments. Families, who pay both taxes and tuition, are the primary source of funding for the system. The Child Care Financial Assistance Program (CCFAP) subsidizes 23% of families seeking regulated care. The remaining roughly 75% of families pay full tuition.

On the provider side, a March 2013 survey showed that 14.2% of providers do not charge a co-payment to any family receiving financial assistance. An additional 27.6% only charge under certain circumstances. Moreover, 65.2% of providers provide additional financial support (like scholarships or lowered co-payments) or work with families to determine payments that are affordable. These financial supports reduce the income of the business, limiting providers’ ability to pay staff, buy supplies, or support quality improvements.

Compared nationally, Vermont ranked 13th least affordable for center-based infant care and 3rd least affordable for center-based four-year-old care. Furthermore, parents across the state report difficulty accessing early care and learning programs, let alone high quality programs.

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