Child care crisis: Vt. faces shortage of early ed workers

MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) New numbers show Vermont doesn't have enough early education workers to meet the demand for child care.

A study out Thursday from child care advocacy group "Let's Grow Kids" says right now, we have about 2,700 child care workers. They estimate that to meet the demand for regulated care in Vermont we need another 2,100. That's a 78% increase.

Child care providers WCAX News spoke with say finding those workers is challenging. Our Cat Viglienzoni explains why.

If you want Nadeau's Playschool in Williston to take care of your infant, get in line.

"I think the waitlist is four pages long and there's probably about 30 spots on each page," said Bethany Caruso, the assistant director at Nadeau's.

Caruso says with a recent announcement that two other child care providers in the county are going to close in March, parents are frantic.

"I would say this week I've gotten upwards of 30-40 phone calls looking for spots and we have none," she said. "Families are scrambling."

Child care centers like Nadeau's are scrambling, too, to fill open jobs.

"I'm typically filling in in a classroom," Caruso said.

Caruso is only supposed to help fill gaps when employees call out sick or have appointments. But for several months now, her regular work has been backing up while they hired a new teacher.

"Which is pretty typical when we have an open position," Caruso said. "It's difficult to find qualified staff to fill those positions."

Vermont requires lead teachers to have a minimum of 21 credits or seven classes of early childhood education. Caruso says most of their applicants don't.

"It's definitely frustrating because having a shortage of staff puts a strain all around on everybody," she said.

"We have a broken model that needs to be fixed," said Michele Asch of Twincraft Skincare.

Thursday morning, business owners like Asch, child care workers and advocates lobbied in Montpelier for more funding to address the early education workforce shortage. They noted that not having affordable child care keeps parents out of the workforce and pointed out that with an average salary of about $30,000 a year and few benefits, it's difficult to entice people to enter the profession.

"We are not going to be able to draw people into this field unless we can pay them a good wage," said Rep. Mike Marcotte, R-Newport, who chairs the House Committee on Commerce & Economic Development.

Early education advocacy group Let's Grow Kids CEO Aly Richards asked lawmakers to set aside $20 million this year to continue the work they started with last year's $7 million investment.

"Little bit of increase, we make hay with it. It's really meaningful for Vermonters because the need is so great," Richards said.

Caruso says Nadeau's has already expanded twice to meet the growing demand for child care. They're already taking deposits for spaces at their brand new location in Williston opening this fall. They're going to start advertising the jobs there this spring.

"The only concern is being able to fill those teaching positions with the right qualified people," she said. "So, I'd say it's an immediate need for sure."

How to pay for investments in child care will likely be the biggest sticking point for lawmakers.

In his budget address, Gov. Phil Scott proposed an additional $3 million for child care assistance and also proposed expanding the lottery and using the new money from that to pay for early education initiatives. But it's unclear whether lawmakers would approve that and how much that would bring in.

Caruso said she wants to see the state make it easier and cheaper for employees to get the training they're required to have. She says the state has made some progress there, but employees still end up shouldering a lot of the financial burden.

Click here for the WCAX story.