Gubernatorial candidates offer different proposals to fix Vermont’s early childhood system
About 200 people watched an early childhood gubernatorial candidates panel on Friday, October 14, which was held at the UVM Davis Center in Burlington and live-streamed on the Let’s Grow Kids website. Candidates Sue Minter and Phil Scott, who are neck-and-neck in the race to be Vermont’s next governor (according to a recent VPR poll), answered questions related to child and family policies; economic development and early childhood; and the state budget.
The panel, co-presented by Let’s Grow Kids, the Vermont Association for the Education of Young Children and The Media Factory, with support from more than a dozen statewide and regional organizations, was the only gubernatorial candidate event this fall devoted exclusively to early childhood issues. The panel was moderated by WCAX News Anchor Darren Perron.
"Let’s Grow Kids has been working with our partners across the state to make sure that everyone who cares about young children is registered to vote and to make sure they get out and vote in this election and in elections to come,” said Let’s Grow Kids Campaign Director Robyn Freedner-Maguire.
Both Sue Minter and Phil Scott said they’ve been hearing from Vermonters all over the state who are facing tough choices because of Vermont’s shortage of high-quality, affordable child care. Both candidates said Vermont’s child care challenge is a serious problem affecting the state’s economy.
More than 70% of Vermont children under the age of six live in families where all available parents are in the labor force, meaning these families are likely to need some form of child care while parents are working. However, almost half of Vermont infants and toddlers likely to need care do not have access to regulated child care programs and nearly 80 percent of infants and toddlers likely to need care don’t have access to high-quality programs, according to a recent report “Stalled at the Start: Vermont’s Child Care Challenge.”
Scott said he’s heard from young mothers who are spending 40-50% of their monthly income on child care. Many parents make tough choices to leave the workforce because they can’t access quality, affordable child care, he said. Scott said Vermont is struggling to retain people in the 25-45 age group and that attracting more young professionals to support Vermont’s businesses is crucial to the state’s future economic prosperity. Scott said he would look for innovative solutions to solve Vermont’s child care challenge so young families can afford to live here, including encouraging communities to partner with providers to offer space for child care programs and incentivizing businesses to provide on-site child care for employees.
“If we’re serious about investing in our workforce, we need to address the issue of affordable child care,” Scott said.
Minter talked about her personal experience as a working mother and cited an alarming statistic that 37% of female-headed households with young children live below the poverty line. Lack of high-quality, affordable child care exacerbates this problem, Minter said. She said her Vermont Promise program would offer two years of tuition-free community and technical college, coupled with affordable child care, as a way to educate more child care professionals while also supporting parents.
“When women have economic security, our families have economic security and we have greater economic prosperity,” Minter said.
Minter cited her personal experience again when asked about paid family leave, recalling being afraid to tell her employer she was pregnant with her first child for fear she wouldn’t have a job to come back to since her employer did not offer paid leave. “I strongly support paid family leave,” Minter said, adding that, if elected, she wants to build off of Vermont’s recent paid sick leave legislation. “People should never have to choose between their job and their family,” Minter said.
Scott said he wasn’t willing to put any further burdens on Vermont businesses and he would not support expanding the paid sick bill to include family leave. “I don’t think we can afford it; our economy is too fragile,” he said. Scott also said he would not raise taxes to implement recommendations made by Vermont’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Financing High-Quality, Affordable Child Care, which will issue a report in late November. Instead, he said he would look for efficiencies in government spending and consider re-investing savings in early childhood. As an example, he cited a recent independent report to the Legislature that found Vermont could have saved $164 million on pre-kindergarten through 12th grade education in the 2014-15 school year.
Minter said she wouldn’t want to “put a pause button” on moving forward with the Commission’s recommendations. “We can’t just look at cutting now, we need to look at building the future,” Minter said, citing research showing a high return on investment for every dollar spent on early childhood. She referenced infrastructure investments she supported in Barre when she served as Secretary of Transportation, that she said resulted in business and job growth. “I believe we can build the economy of the future when we think strategically about our investments,” Minter said.
The Oct. 14 panel was sponsored by more than a dozen statewide and regional organizations including the Vermont Business Roundtable, the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, Vermont Early Childhood Alliance, the Vermont Childcare Providers Association, Building Bright Futures, Vermont Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, Let’s Grow Kids and Vermont Birth to Five.
About Let’s Grow Kids
Let’s Grow Kids is a public awareness and engagement campaign about the important role that high-quality, affordable child care can play in supporting the healthy development of Vermont’s children during their first five years—the most important years for laying a foundation for future success in relationships, school and life. 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. Let’s Grow Kids is an initiative of the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children with support from the A.D. Henderson Foundation and the Turrell Fund. Learn more at www.letsgrowkids.org.
The Vermont Association for the Education of Young Children (VAEYC) is an affiliate of the National Association for Education of Young Children, the nation’s largest membership organization for early childhood professionals. VAEYC’s mission is to enhance the quality of early childhood programs and professional practices, and advocate for young children (birth through 8 years) and their families in order to realize the potential of every Vermont child. Learn more at www.vaeyc.org.
About The Media Factory
The Media Factory is a nonprofit community media space in the south end of Burlington where RETN (Regional Educational Television Network) and VCAM (Vermont Community Access Media) are co-located. Together, these organizations are growing the space to include expanded opportunities for media-making and learning across the diverse spectrum of citizens in the greater Burlington area. Visit www.retn.org and www.vermontcam.org to learn more.
by Let's Grow Kids