There are 672 full-time, licensed childcare 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 childcare crisis in Vermont has never been more dire, and things will only worsen without significant state investment. As childcare program directors, we see this crisis play out daily through constant staffing shortages, childcare 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 childcare 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 did 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 childcare programs done by First Children’s Finance – the national organization that recently launched a program to provide expert training and technical assistance to childcare businesses in Vermont.
The results of that survey – which were given to the Legislature – are grim. Under current conditions, 17 percent of childcare 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 childcare programs will struggle even more. Just to meet current demand, we’d need to add upwards of 8,000 childcare spaces statewide, so we really cannot afford to close any additional childcare 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 childcare crisis.
As childcare 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 childcare programs have been calling on lawmakers to do for years: Invest millions of public dollars into our beleaguered childcare 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 childcare 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 childcare 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 childcare bill. Please show up for us now, just as we’ve been showing up for Vermont families every single day.