'Mama Llama' Jennifer Garner praises Vermont on child care and preschool

Jennifer Garner visited a Burlington preschool Thursday to speak on the importance of early childhood programs — and to kick off the kids' story time with "Llama Llama Misses Mama."

The actress voices "Mama Llama" in the animated Netflix series based on the book.

Gov. Phil Scott followed the "Alias" star by reading "The Snowy Day," and House Speaker Mitzi Johnson wrapped up with "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom."

"You really know how to listen," Garner told the children. "That is something kids learn in preschool."

"I try to get them to do that in the Statehouse," the governor said.

"I was just thinking, I can tell you who hasn't been to preschool," Johnson said.

At Robin's Nest Children's Center

Garner visited the Robin's Nest Children's Center in the Old North End on behalf of the political advocacy group Save the Children Action Network. Garner said she supported in part because of her own childhood experiences.

Garner said her mother grew up "extremely poor" in rural Oklahoma and was the only one in her family to go to college. Garner was raised in West Virginia.

"While we were middle class, we were surrounded by generational rural poverty," Garner said. "I suddenly thought, who's helping those kids? Who's helping kids in West Virginia, like the kids I grew up with, or kids like my mom? I wouldn't have the life I had if somebody hadn't given her a leg up."

Garner said most brain development happens before kindergarten, and she praised Vermont for its work to expand access to early care programs.

"If you are growing up poor in America, then by the time you are four years old, you are 18 months behind," Garner said. "This is because you don't have access to early childhood education like what's happening here at Robin's Nest."

Tri-partisan support in Statehouse

Child care and early learning programs have tri-partisan support at the Statehouse, but lawmakers have struggled to pay for the subsidies that assist families and child care providers.

Gov. Scott's most recent budget proposal calls for applying the sales tax to online marketplaces, then using $7 million of the proceeds to support early learning programs and offer families a higher rate of subsidy. About two dozen legislators, mostly Republicans, have sponsored a bill to accomplish the governor's goals, but some Democratic leaders are wary of the proposal because all sales and use tax money is currently dedicated to funding public schools.