May 1, 2023

Without major public investment, over 100 child care programs could close

There are 672 full-time, licensed child care programs across Vermont serving children between the ages of zero and five. As many as 115 of them could close within a year if we don't act now.

The child care crisis in Vermont has never been more dire, and things will only worsen without significant state investment. As child care program directors, we are seeing this crisis play out daily through constant staffing shortages, child care capacity losses, and retention struggles. To us this is unsurprising, as we are in a significantly underfunded sector, constrained by familial budgets and increasing expenses. This results in a high level of risk for every single program in the state.

We have taken extraordinary steps to survive. To stay financially viable, many programs have closed sites and have left open positions vacant, despite a chronic child care shortage. In some cases, administrative staff have been reassigned to the classroom: a role they are unprepared for, and which has damaging effects on business operations. Elsewhere, our colleagues eliminated food programs and do their own custodial work to cut expenses. Many programs are considering massive tuition increases simply to make payroll. Though creative, these solutions are not sustainable; we are on borrowed time. Already, some colleagues are deciding if they can continue operations beyond the summer.

We recently took part in a health survey of child care programs done by First Children’s Finance – the national organization that recently launched a program to provide expert training and technical assistance to child care businesses in Vermont.

The results of that survey – which were given to the State Legislature – are grim. Under current conditions, 17% of child care centers reported they might not be in business in 12 months. That means in under a year we could see 115 programs close. This would impact at least 1,150 kids and their families, as well as hundreds of early childhood educators and staff who could lose their jobs.

American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding that helped keep our programs afloat through the pandemic expired last month. Such funding has allowed our programs to cover rent or mortgage, maintenance and updates, utilities, insurance, employees’ salaries and benefits, and mental health support.

But, as federal relief runs out, families and child care programs will struggle even more. Just to meet current demand, we’d need to add upwards of 8,000 child care spaces statewide; so we really cannot afford to close any additional child care programs. We’ve always known this relief was only meant to be temporary; this is why we desperately need a statewide, long-term solution to the child care crisis.

As child care program directors, we’re encouraged by the work that state lawmakers have done on child care this legislative session so far. Yet, if we don’t finish the job and pass S.56, the 2023 child care bill, countless programs won’t be around much longer.

S.56 does what child care programs have been calling on lawmakers to do for years: Invest millions of public dollars into our beleaguered child care system. This would make child care more accessible and affordable for thousands of Vermont’s youngest children and their families, and would improve program quality by increasing compensation and professional training for early childhood educators.

We’re forced to make difficult choices to prepare for what’s ahead. We’ve already had to respond to the lack of state resources and loss of ARPA funding by closing sites, cutting staff, and removing other helpful programs. The alternative is for programs to make unprecedented and unfair increases to tuition rates.

Vermont cannot continue to transfer the financial burden to families without forcing more parents to leave the workforce. Vermont also cannot afford to lose any more child care programs. Without significant state investment this year, this outcome is unavoidable. As early childhood educators, we love working with children and are so proud of the positive impact we have on Vermont’s communities. We take pride in our work and it pains us to imagine a future without a viable child care system – but that is what’s at stake.

To our representatives in Montpelier: Our kids, our families, our workforce and our economy desperately need long-term public investment in child care - we need the 2023 child care bill. Please show up for us now, just as we’ve been showing up for Vermont families every single day.

Elizabeth Roberts is the Owner of Sweet Sprouts Daycare in Perkinsville; Julie Brigante is the Owner of Early Years Child Development Center in Colchester; Molly Scaife is the Director of Burlington Children’s Space in Burlington; Caryl Jaques is the Owner of Little One’s University in Essex Jct; Sonja Raymond is the Owner of Apple Tree Learning Centers in Stowe; Sarah Chamberlain, Director, Kids & Fitness of Essex, Essex Jct; Laurel Pelkey-Morin is the Owner of E.J.’s Kids Klub, Inc., in Williston; Beth Workman is the Executive Director of Robin’s Nest Children’s Center in Burlington; Julie Buechler is the Executive Director of Ascension Childcare, Inc., in Shelburne; Rosamaria Fay and Stephanie Lehneman are Co-Owners of Milton’s Elite in Milton; Amy Murray is the Owner of Little Feats and Little Feats Too in Colchester; Teresa Davis is the Founding Director of Davis Studio Preschool in South Burlington; Sara LeBlanc is the Founder of Next Generation in Georgia; Kelly Bouteiller is the Executive Director of Charlotte Children's Center in Charlotte; Trisha Scharf is the Executive Director of Children Unlimited in Williston; Tammie Hazlett is the Owner of Tammie’s Day Care in Thetford Center; Emily Prye is the Owner of Rabbit Track Early Learning Academy in Bradford; Christina Nelson is the Owner of Mountain View Childcare in North Troy; Linda January is the Executive Director of Otter Creek Child Center in Middlebury; Staci Otis is the Owner of Little All-Stars in Springfield; Su White is the Teaching Director of Quarry Hill School in Middlebury; Lisa LaBelle is the Owner of ABC Academy in Milton; Susan Paré is the Director of Starksboro Cooperative Preschool in Starksboro; Kristen Dunne is the Executive Director of Mary Johnson Children's Center in Middlebury; Kimberly Bell is the Director of Middlebury Children's Cooperative in East Middlebury; Brianna Heller is Director of Orwell Early Education Program in Orwell; Kara von Behren is the Director of Williston Enrichment Center in Williston; Lori Henry is the Owner of Reach for the Stars in Essex Jct; Amie Whitcomb is the Executive Director of Bristol Family Center in Bristol; Sarah Constantine is the Owner of Adventures in Early Learning in Shelburne; Wendy Krygier is the Owner of Woodstock Nursery School in Woodstock; Peg Sutlive is the Owner of Addison County Early Learning Center in New Haven; Grace Marek is Co-Director of the Poker Hill School in Underhill; Ashley Bessette is theProgram Director of Evergreen Preschool in Vergennes; Rachel Hunter is the Early Education Coordinator for the Springfield School District in North Springfield; Tasha Ball is the Administrative Director of Willowell Foundation/Wren’s Nest Forest Preschool in Bristol; Megan Godfrey is the Executive Director of Trinity Children’s Center in Burlington.

Read the original op-ed in Vermont Business Magazine here.

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