To the editor:
As the mother of three young children, a business owner and a board member of an early learning center, I'm very aware of how important it is to invest in our children long before they enter the public school system.
In the first few years, a baby's brain is forming more than one million connections every single second; the experiences children have during this time are literally being built into the brain, laying the foundation for all future learning and development. Access to high-quality child care during these formative years plays a crucial role in preparing kids for success in school, relationships, and life.
Unfortunately, high-quality care is in high demand and low supply. In Bennington County, half of infants likely to need care don't have access to any regulated child care programs.
Child care programs are struggling to stay in business because they can't afford to pay wages that match the value of the teachers. I drop off my children to these smiling faces and some mornings I just about cry tears of joy that they are willing to pour love, education, support, guidance into these most precious people in my life. And they do it for all of the children. In my opinion, they can't possibly be paid enough. But if you look at the average wages — the average child care worker in Vermont earns $26,650 a year, often without benefits — it is clear they are FAR from being paid enough to even send their own children to high-quality programs.
The solution is not to ask families to pay more because high-quality child care is already unaffordable, even for parents who have decent paying jobs. A family with two children where both parents make $15 per hour is not eligible for any tuition assistance from the state. However, they have two children that need high-quality care and are now paying an average of $500 per week just to have the parents both work.
We need to invest in our youngest children from day one; the return on investment is tremendous. A recent study found that every dollar we invest to expand and improve Vermont's early care and learning system will yield $3.08 in return. Investing early is the best antidote to state spending on things like special education, health care, social welfare programs, and the criminal justice system.
Increasing investments in Vermont's chronically underfunded Child Care Financial Assistance Program (CCFAP) is a good place to start. This would help more families access high-quality care and make it so child care providers who serve low-income families are paid at a rate closer to the actual cost of providing care.
Talk to your legislators about the importance of high-quality child care. You can visit www.letsgrowkids.org for more information where you can also join the growing movement for high-quality, affordable child care in Vermont for everyone.
— Kayla Becker