Public Assets Institute > Policy Areas > Family Economic Security > A chance to talk about the child-care gap

A chance to talk about the child-care gap

High-quality child care in Vermont is too expensive, too hard to find, too far away from too many families, and pays workers far too little. At least that’s what a new report by Let’s Grow Kids found. The supply is particularly bad for infants and toddlers. For the nearly 13,000 of them likely to need care in Vermont, there are fewer than 2,700 high-quality spots available—enough to serve only about 20 percent. And that’s statewide. In some rural areas, there are high quality spots for fewer than 10 percent of infants and toddlers.

That means, statewide, 4 out of 5 of the youngest children in need of child care are in lower-quality programs or making do with some patchwork system of care among relatives, friends, or unregulated babysitters. And child care workers are earning an average of just under $25,000 annually—not a livable wage. This system is not working for parents, for kids, or for caretakers.

Vermont provides a subsidy to income-eligible families to help with the cost of child care, but it falls short of what’s needed. The amount of the subsidy is determined by the quality of the program, based on the state’s STARS (STep Ahead Recognition System). This is supposed to be an incentive for providers to improve the quality of care, but in reality it means that lower-quality programs get even less from the state to cover their costs.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that subsidies allow families access to 75 percent of the centers in their market area. While access varies by age group and program quality, Vermont’s subsidy misses that mark in every category, which essentially means that those with money have access to many more child care options than those without.

It’s no surprise that more money buys better care for your kids. But it flies in the face of what we now know—that early childhood education is critical to child development, and that learning starts long before a child sets foot in 100 percent publicly funded kindergarten. If the goal is to narrow the achievement gap, public education needs to start earlier. Vermont is moving in this direction. The upcoming school year is the first with universal pre-kindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds. While this is a positive step, the 10 hours a week provided does not solve the child-care challenge for families. Maybe it’s time to think about publicly funding child care the way we fund public education.

To address these child care issues, the governor and Legislature created the Blue Ribbon Commission on Financing High Quality, Affordable Child Care in 2015. This summer the commission is holding a series of community forums around the state on July 25th and 26th to hear from Vermonters about what they need from a child care system. This is a great opportunity for you to talk with the commission about what you know.

Posted by Stephanie Yu on July 14, 2016 at 12:18 pm

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