Feb 1, 2017

Childcare providers applaud Scott proposals

Proposed $7.5M in assistance would help 500 families

ST. ALBANS — Governor Phil Scott plans to increase investments in the state’s early care and learning programs by $9.6 million.

In his budget address last week, Scott outlined his proposal to realign priorities and spending in public education in order to unify the system from early care to higher education.

Citing the decline of 20,000 students in 20 years, Scott said the state can no longer afford to spend $19,000 per student. He also proposed shifting some spending from K-12 to increased support for childcare and Vermont’s state colleges.

He said multiple reports show Vermont is one of the least affordable states in terms of childcare.

“We know that middle income families with two parents and two young children are spending as much as 38 percent of their income on childcare,” said Robyn Freedner-Maguire, the director for Let’s Grow Kids. Let’s Grow Kids is a public awareness campaign about the important role high quality and affordable childcare can play in supporting the healthy development of Vermont’s children during their first five years.

“This is not just an education issue, it’s a workforce issue that undermines the security of families and slows our growth,” Scott said.

He told the story of a woman from Peacham who worked full-time in the dairy industry, but was forced to quit her job when she and her husband had their first child.

“When they found childcare would eat up her entire paycheck, it made more sense for her to stay home,” Scott said.

He said this story demonstrates why investing in high quality early care and learning serves as an economic driver. The Blue Ribbon Commission on Financing High-Quality, Affordable Child Care found research stating for every dollar invested into early childhood education programs, there is a yield of $4 to $9.

Scott said it also reduces future costs in healthcare, special education and corrections. He said it’s for all these reasons why he is proposing to increase investment in early care and pre-K by $9.6 million.

His budget proposal directs $7.5 million of the total to the Child Care Financial Assistance Program (CCFAP). The program provides childcare tuition assistance for families who meet certain financial, health, work or education criteria.

According to Let’s Grow Kids, CCFAP has been chronically underfunded for several years. As of now, 23 percent of Vermont families with young children qualify for tuition assistance benefits under CCFAP. The $7.5 million funding increase would expand eligibility to an additional 500 low-income families, according to Let’s Grow Kids.

Scott’s budget proposal also includes $600,000 in grant money for the development of a model that helps childcare providers share services.

“Childcare providers are struggling to stay in the field,” said Freedner-Maguire. “That’s because the average annual income for a childcare worker in Vermont is less than $25,000, often without benefits. Significant investment is long over-due and frankly, our kids, families, providers and Vermont businesses that rely on a dependable workforce are counting on us to start solving the problem.”

The budget provides additional funding for fullday pre-K programs for high poverty kids and pilot programs at the municipal level.

“We appreciate that the governor is focused on strategic investments that have a comprehensive and systemic impact on supporting our children, working parents, Vermont businesses and the economy,” said Freedner-Maguire.

“Governor Scott’s address underscored his commitment to giving every Vermont child a strong start,” she said. “His recommendation to invest $9.6 million into high quality early care and learning programs is a game changer for young children and their families who struggle.”

MapleRunUnifiedSchool District Superintendent Kevin Dirth expressed some concerns about the realignment of spending in the public education system toward early care and learning and higher education.

Dirth said his major concern about the budget proposal is “pitting one group of educators against another.”

He said Scott is doing this by cutting funding for K- 12 to provide funding for childcare and higher education.

Dirth said no one will dispute that early education is extremely important, but funding for public education needs to be looked at as a package deal. “It hasn’t been well thought out,” he said.

Dirth said the state needs to take some more time and find a way to fund these programs without hurting other people along the way.

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