Jan 1, 2024

Vermont Biz: Smires & Brink: Our Child Care New Year’s Resolution for 2024

At a time when there are significant challenges facing our state, our lawmakers showed courage and dedication by passing the 2023 Child Care Bill — now Act 76. This historic legislation will change the lives of the kids we serve in big ways – and it’s already improving the lives of early childhood educators.

We operate five-star child care programs based in the Northeast Kingdom with over 65 employees providing quality early childhood education for 200 kids in our rural region.

Act 76 invests $125 million annually into the child care system. This funding is being used to help us as well as other child care programs around the state expand and meet the needs of their communities. This funding will help us develop and grow our centers while upgrading them to meet the individual needs of all of the children in our care.

The promise and assurance from this legislation’s new and ongoing state funding has allowed us to increase the compensation of our staff members already. These highly-skilled professionals deserve the compensation that allows them to thrive here in Vermont.

On behalf of every early childhood educator who has worked so hard over the years to stay in the field when wages were low, stress was high, wait lists were long, and patience was short, we want to say thank you to lawmakers for stepping up and making the 2023 Child Care Bill a reality. We know there is more to do and there’s still a lot of hard work ahead to fully solve the child care crisis, but we are already seeing positive impacts from this legislation and our state’s children, families, and economy will be so much stronger for it.

Act 76 has given programs like ours the confidence to expand from our small start in Danville to where we are today and the future is so bright. With the support of Act 76 and child care advocates, we are excited to announce the opening of our sixth and seventh programs; our sixth program just opened in Cabot and our seventh location will be for afterschool-age children in St. Johnsbury. We have grown from a center of two employees to now providing opportunities for 65 early childhood educators serving the communities of St. Johnsbury, Peacham, and Cabot and offering full day and afterschool programming. We continue to plan expansion projects to help meet the needs of our families.

This new law has given us the ability to better plan for the future too. Our New Year’s resolution and goal for 2024 is to finally offer our amazing staff health insurance benefits. We know this standard employment benefit will save our state money in the long run when our staff are better able to care for themselves and their families.

Children may only be 24 percent of the population, but they are 100 percent of our future. And every child, beginning at birth, deserves quality, affordable early childhood education, delivered by a well-prepared and well-compensated workforce. Let’s continue to work together in 2024 and beyond to fully solve our state’s child care crisis.

Heather Smires is the owner of ABC & LOL Child Care Center & Preschool, ABC Little Sprouts and Camp LOL in St. Johnsbury, as well as Peacham Children’s Academy and Peacham Afterschool Learning in Peacham, and Taylor Brink, M. Ed., is the Executive Director of ABC & LOL Child Care Center and Preschool.

This article originally appeared on Vermont Biz.

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