MONTPELIER – On Thursday, the Vermont nonprofit organization Let’s Grow Kids met with parents, legislative leaders and business owners to discuss the state’s child care needs.
When the pandemic arrived last year, the state quickly shelled out millions to ensure the child care system remained stable, but advocates argue there were a host of unaddressed issues before that.
According to Let’s Grow Kids, three out of five Vermont children didn’t have access to childcare, and CEO Aly Richards said unavailability has had a ripple effect on the workforce and the economy.
“Childcare has been undervalued and under-resourced for decades, and our kids, our families, our early educators, our employers, and our economy have been struggling because of that,” Richards said. “This policy agenda charges experts to analyze the true cost, and recommend a stable and long-term funding source to truly get the job done.”
Richards and other advocates are calling on Vermont lawmakers to begin an ambitious three-year overhaul of the system. Their list of goals includes ensuring access to kids of all backgrounds and abilities, lowering cost so families won’t be spending more than 10 percent of their income on child care, fairly compensating early childhood educators, and securing stable, long-term funding.
“We have 30,000 people involved in our movement from all walks of life who recognize that childcare is essential,” Richards said.
“Making this additional investment will not only lift up kids and provide them hope for a better future and help them be their best selves, but it’s also going to help me as an employer,” said People’s United Bank CEO Michael Seaver.
A key hurdle in carrying out the vision will be a funding source, and advocates are pitching a payroll tax that would be shared by employers and employees.
They won’t have to wait very long to hear what the legislature might be planning.
“Let me speak plainly, childcare investments are a big priority for the Senate,” said Vermont Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint. “It’s a real opportunity for all of us to build back better.”
“We especially have heard a lot of concern over the past 10 months,” said Vermont House Speaker Jill Krowinski. “The house will be taking the lead this session with a bill that will be introduced soon.”
During his Tuesday budget address, Gov. Phil Scott said he wants to help relieve childcare facilities from budget pressure by allowing them to be exempt from the education property tax. Several already are, but Scott wants to create a level playing field for all facilities. He also wants to direct additional lottery revenue toward the cause, up to $3 million.
Let’s Grow Kids is a nonprofit organization working to ensure affordable access to high-quality child care for all Vermont families by 2025.