Commentary

Rick Davis: Recognizing the underpaid and overlooked

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Rick Davis, co-founder and president of the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children.

[W]hen it comes to education, most people appreciate the importance of quality teachers in our elementary schools and the need for strong public school systems. But what about the quality of care and experiences during the most crucial period of development -- before a child even gets to that first day of school? Have we paid enough attention to the individuals who may impact our children's development the most -- the early childhood educators? Besides parents, these individuals are perhaps the most important teachers a child will ever have.

Science has provided irrefutable evidence that brain development occurs at an incredible pace during the earliest years, providing children with a foundation for their future social, emotional, and cognitive growth. We know these early years, from birth to 3, are crucial in determining their success later in life. We also know that most Vermont children under the age of 6 have both parents in the workforce, which means they spend their time outside their home in the care of early childhood educators who quickly become one of the most influential factors affecting their development. Whether these early educators are home-based or center-based, the bottom line is that we need them -- and how well we support and invest in the work they are doing can make a big difference on the economic future of our state.

Supporting and recognizing our early educators and strengthening our child care system will enrich our communities and our economy, attract growing young families, and ensure that all Vermont children have a strong foundation with the tools they need to reach their potential.

 

Let's consider for a moment some realities that accompany the profession of early childhood education. With families that can't afford to pay for quality care and subsidies that fail to close the gap, Vermont's early childhood educators are left underpaid and overlooked. Low pay brings high turnover and a lack of stability for our children. Many bright and capable young teachers view positions in early childhood care as a stepping-stone to careers in public education. As these teachers move on, young families are unable to find continuous quality care that they are looking for in many of Vermont's communities.

It makes sense that young, growing families would move away from communities with limited child care resources and other services they need to support a healthy quality of life. Although the Burlington area receives accolades as a great place to raise children, we want that recognition to resonate as we work toward our goal of universal access to high quality early care and education throughout Vermont.

As we have conversations about growing jobs in Vermont and keeping our young people here, we must recognize that a strong early care and education system is an essential piece of any successful economic development model.

Supporting and recognizing our early educators and strengthening our child care system will enrich our communities and our economy, attract growing young families, and ensure that all Vermont children have a strong foundation with the tools they need to reach their potential.

The Early Educator of the Year Award introduced in March by the Permanent Fund for Vermont's Children is an annual award to honor and recognize those early educators who are doing this important work. Though a seemingly small gesture, it is part of a much larger effort to strengthen and transform Vermont's early care and education system.

We hope that Vermonters recognize the outstanding early educators in their communities not only through award nominations, but also by supporting sustainable frameworks that encourage and support those passionate about teaching our children, to make a difference where it matters most.


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