Business & Economy

Study recommends state move toward universal early child care

child care center
Children at the Arlington Area Childcare/Happy Days Playschool in Bennington County. Courtesy photo

Vermont spends about $130 million on early education and preK each year, but it’s not enough, according to a Blue Ribbon Commission tasked with studying how to create and pay for quality care and schooling for children from birth to age 5. It will take an investment of somewhere between $283 million and $766 million to ensure every child has good care.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Financing High Quality, Affordable Child Care recommends the state move toward universal early care and learning. It said it will require big shifts in current funding, governance and delivery. There is no way that investing more into the current delivery system will be enough to fix the problem, according to the final report issued on Dec. 9.

The commission suggests the Legislature make “immediate incremental investments in high quality, affordable early care and learning,” recommends a new design for the system and puts forward possible funding mechanisms for a universal program.

“Developing and funding an early care learning system must be a top state priority of the next Gubernatorial Administration and State Legislature,” states the report.

The $130 million is now spent through state and federal investments in early care and learning. The Child Care Financial Assistance Program (CCFAP) helps 23 percent of families pay for child care, the rest of Vermont’s families with young children cover the full cost.

“Given the enormous complexities of this area, as well as immediate needs of children and families, this Commission recommends both short-term investments and a long-term transformational design of the future of the early childhood system,” states the report.

It estimates that care costs about $35,000 per infant and toddler and $15,000 per preschooler annually at child care centers. For home providers costs shift to roughly $41,000 for babies, $21,000 for toddlers and $14,000 for preschoolers. Calculations based on half of children being in center-based programs and half in home-based ones, serving between 25 percent and 100 percent of children from birth to age 5, resulted in costs of $360 million to $850 million.

The commission also looked at the early care subsidy system and modeled ways to increase access and affordability to quality programs by adjusting who is eligible. It suggests providing a 100 percent benefit to families earning up to $60,000 and tapering off support until families earn $180,000.

The final report is the result of 15 months of research gathered from national studies, public forums, surveys and testimony from experts. The commission is made up of 15 members with representatives from the Agency of Education, the Department for Children and Families, business leaders, parents and child care providers. It first convened in September 2015.

The commission’s purpose was to find out what high quality programs look like and make recommendations to the governor and the General Assembly on the best way to use “existing” public dollars to create more opportunities.

The commission first defined “high quality” care, then looked at the cost to providers to deliver these kinds of programs. It found that many providers operate at a loss — some directors and owners don’t collect a paycheck. To make care more affordable to families, some providers offer discounts and don’t collect the CCFAP co-payments. But doing so limits their ability to pay staff, buy supplies and implement improvements.

The largest cost driver in high-quality programs are wages and benefits, but many early child care workers make less than a short-order cook or store clerk, according to the report.

The commission recommends increased pay for program directors and lead teachers that would bring them up to that of public school teachers and aides.

Vermont’s current child care and early learning system lacks capacity and resources. Almost 80 percent of the state’s families don’t have access to high quality programs, according to the report. Vermont ranks among the least affordable states for caring for infants and 4-year-olds. If families are able find a place to send their infants and toddlers while they work, they pay anywhere between 25 and 50 percent of their income for child care.

The report frequently speaks of the complexity of a early childhood system that spans education, mental health, special needs and social services. But the findings underscore an urgent need for further investment to increase quality and access and to design and implement a new system for Vermont’s early care and learning.

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  • Scott Woodward

    I applaud the work of the BRC. However, I don’t see from the report tangible ideas for solving the supply problem. It would also be helpful to see more detail and analysis for why child care costs are so high. If labor and benefits are the biggest costs, but child care workers are underpaid, then it’s easy to see how the costs will keep going up if wages are raised. That’s not to say wages shouldn’t go up if they are misaligned with the skills and demands of workers.

    See the following link for center and home-based costs published as part of the report. I just wonder why it cost so much in the first place, second only to housing in VT.

  • David White

    Who pays for all this?

    • Mark Leonard

      “The whole idea of our government is this: If enough people get together and act in concert, they can take something and not pay for it.” — P.J. O’Rourke – A Parliament of Whores

      • Neil Johnson

        Your descriptive is an insult to ladies working the evening, at least there is the promise of love there. How can our state think they can replace the love of parents, instill a value system?

    • Gary Murdock

      We do, this is text book progressive 101. This is an excellent time to invest in a moving company.

    • James Rude

      We the tax payers will have to pay for this. If you take the outside cost of $776,000,000 and divide this number by the number to taxpayers in VT (approximately 226,500) then you arrive at cost per tax payer of $3,426 and change. Our state motto should read: It takes a village to rob Peter to pay Paul.

      • You are right James Rude, but perhaps not quite in the way you imagined. We the taxpayers will pay for this if we don’t provide high quality early childhood education and care. In fact we’re already paying for it in spades, in prisons, rehabs, and in public assistance programs. So where do you want your money to go? To an educated, caring childcare provider, and the children they help, or to the prison system?

        • John Grady

          Vermont pays out about $30 million in EIC. That could be expanded to help more mothers stay home. Something like children 12 an under in the home get 4 times as much state EIC which is a 33% match of the federal amount ? Match the Fed amount 100% plus some ?

          DCF could create parenting video’s and post them on the internet. Push new parents to take an online course to qualify for increased EIC.

          DCF could create county forums for parents split up by the year of birth of their children so they could interact with parents of similar aged kids in groups like Born 2011 – 2015
          Born 2016 – 2020

          VT. needs affordable housing & to teach the young financial smarts.

          People have pointed out addressing things early before they become a massive problem makes sense. It’s got to be done in a way society can afford to do it. Gold Platted Child care like a Trump baby gets isn’t affordable. Cutting the elementary after school programs an increasing EIC might be possible.

        • Maren Vasatka

          Amelia, I am sorry but you are totally letting the parents off the hook. The parents have a responsibility to raise their children as well as educated them and teach them morals and values. That is not the states responsibility.

          • Brent Curtis

            I have to agree with Maren in the discussion Having children is a personal choice. But under these circumstances every tax payer takes on the responsibility of paying for their choice. Some degree of responsibility has to be given the parents before deciding to have children. School age is one thing but preschool is different

    • Samuel Shultis

      the country of California , of course

  • Phyllis North

    Great idea, but the price tag is high. Like the new preschool law requiring school districts to offer 10 hours of free preschool to 3- and 4-year-olds, the bill for this would probably be sent to the Education Fund. The problem is, our property tax system is already maxed out. There are limits to the good things Vermont can afford to offer.

  • David C.Austin

    Every time a “Blue Ribbon Commission ” is appointed in this state, the results are the same: Bad Public Policy, and another step toward financial insolvency for Vermont and it’s residents. Unless the parents are drug addicts, abusive, neglectful, or incompetent, the best place for a pre-school aged child is at home with one of them. There are many familes that make the necessary sacrifices to achieve this. Penalizing them for choosing what is best for their children is patently wrong. We ought to be asking ourselves what we can do to make this option available to more families, rather than discouraging it. Someone needs to remind the folks on this panel that Vermonters are already taxed to the breaking point. And that the family is the primary unit of society, not the state.

    • David C. Austin, where do you live? In what universe do parents in 2016 have the luxury to decide that one can stay at home for four or five years? Two working parents are required to make ends meet in the 21st century.

      • David C.Austin

        I live in Vergennes. My three children stayed home with their Mother. I ran a small business and worked 80+ hours a week to make this possible. I guess it all depends on whether or not your children are a priority.

        • Penny Carpenter

          If you are working 80+ hours a week,thn your children are not your priority. They need two parents to spend time with them. Your wife is a single parent and you are providing financial support, not parenting. Also the pay rate in Chittenden county is much higher than in Central Vt or the North east kingdom. We are required to have to working parents to make ends met.

          • J Scott Cameron

            So, you are saying that it would be better to have BOTH parents working and away from the kids?

          • Judith McLaughlin

            Penny, your entire statement is conflicted. David’s priority ARE his children and his wife…who gets to stay home and raise their kids. That’s why he works so hard to provide for them. Bravo for you David!

            So Penny, if two working parents send their children off to a child center from infant to Kindergarten, ….aren’t those two parents NOT parenting their children…but just providing financial support?

            I applaud David’s case, where at least one parent is responsible for raising the children. In your scenario….two working parents are sending their child to strangers to parent for them.

          • David C.Austin

            Our family chose a lifestyle that did not involve car payments, lavish vacations, long commutes, daycare, etc. to be able to provide the best for our children. My business was a 5 minute walk from home. A number of those 80+ hours were spent late at night, in my office, in our family home. My wife and children were able to walk 5 minutes to see me throughout the day. Probably not that much different from someone who is a farmer. I probably spent more time with my children than most parents, and certainly more than those parents who choose to put their children in daycare. There were certainly sacrifices made on our part as parents. I was not independently wealthy, but we were able to live within our means, including sending our children to Catholic school. Life is full of choices. We made the choice that was best for our children.

      • John Grady

        A young couple could live with their parents and save enough money to pay cash for a house someplace where houses are cheap and only need 1 car and could get by on 1 job that paid adult wages. Finding the right place near a job so no commuting is involved and the property tax would matter. In VT. under $47,000 of household income it’s 5% of their income for property tax.

        The belief it can’t be done is part of what is wrong with this society that has been indoctrinated into the cult of debt slaves and doesn’t think there is any other way but follow the Life in America instruction manual.

        The defeatist mentality is part of the reason for a lot of the drug use. The young people have been told since they where in diapers there is only 1 way to make it in America and if they don’t follow the Life in America instruction manual they are doomed. They fail at getting good grades so think they are doomed because it’s been what they have been told so they throw away their lives.

      • Brent Curtis

        Then those parents should recognize what the cost of having children is going to be and not just assume someone else is going to pay for their choice to have children.

        • Neil Johnson

          Family Planning is a term people don’t know about. The biggest planning part is how are we going to care for this child we bring into the world. The couple is responsible for this, it is solely their decision.

      • Judith McLaughlin

        Amelia, I agree that two working parents are required to make ends meet in the 21st century. But that is not the issue here. What is at issue is to what extent is the public at-large responsible for said children. Compulsory education is normally K-12. However, here in Vermont, we are trying to make Compulsory education from Birth to College Graduate. A noble endeavor for sure….but keep in mind that Vermont’s population is that of most small U.S. cities….and said tax-paying residents are currently taxed to the breaking point. The bottom line issue here is can Vermont afford the additional mandatory “high quality education”……for infants and toddlers. All indicators point to a big NO.

  • Dave Bellini

    High property taxes are a bigger problem than daycare. I don’t want to pay any more for other people’s kids. Get K-12 under control first. Cut the non-academic baloney. Be draconian as hell, whatever. LOWER property taxes.

    • Peter Everett

      I agree. The problem is that the minority is rapidly becoming the majority. Once this happens, we’ll never be able to turn back. The entitlement crowd and “snowflakes” want more of the worker’s money, no matter what it takes. Think your taxes are high now? In several years it will be far worse!! Remember their slogan “for the common good”. As long as they receive more, that the “common good”. Slowly, they are gaining control of “our” wallets/pocketbooks. Sad part is we continue to let them eat away at we have earned.

    • Brent Curtis

      I agree David. We continue to pay for other people’s personal choices!

  • James Rude

    Once upon a time, in the not too distant past, parents raised their own children without the meddling of the state. Schools administration was local and close to the community it served. Kids played with each other and when the children reach 5+ years old, they started kindergarten. The school systems produced kids who could read, write and perform basic arithmetic functions. Since the mid 70’s, the school systems began to experiment by introducing new learning theories to curriculum, and guess what happened? The test score began to decline and the kids no longer received a good education. Now we want to drive these fail policies further into the early formative years of a child. No thank you.

    • Neil Johnson

      Love and nurturing is best from the parent, without this children don’t do as well. Now if a child misbehaves, we put them on drugs. There is NO discipline in schools, they can’t do it. Have we as a society lost our souls? Are we that focused on the all mighty dollar that we’ll forsake our own children to live in a nicer home, nicer car and have the latest iPhone? It’s a truly frightening proposal from the state. But then it’s all about the money for them too.

  • rosemarie jackowski

    I have a better idea. Pay one parent enough in wages to support a household and allow the other parent to stay home with the kids.

    • Tom Grout

      Lets bring the factories back (Trump?) and the parent (probably mom) can work part time flex hours at the factory while Johnny is in school. My mom did this for 8 years and had a meal made and bed neat for me every day.

    • David White

      He’s another idea. how about not having children if you can’t afford it .

  • John Grady

    $700 million from personal income tax.

    “It will take an investment of somewhere between $283 million and $766 million to ensure every child has good care.”

    Just raise the income tax 50% to 100%, it’s for the children. Vermont loves being #1 on the highest taxes list. Vetroit in the making.

    • Jon Corrigan

      For the amounts discussed, we should just buy each child under six a brand new home. That would be less expensive and serve them better than five years of babysitting.

  • You could just skip all this and take people’s children at conception and raise them in test tubes, warehouse them in state of the art education centers run by non-profit experts for jobs that blue ribbon commissions determine are the most appropriate based on intelligence and aptitude.
    Or you could look at ways of reducing the costs of living in VT and raising wages so parents can choose how they want to raise their children.

  • Jamie Carter

    “according to a Blue Ribbon Commission tasked with studying how to create and pay for quality care ”

    So how do they recommend we pay for it? This seems to be lacking, at least in this article.
    Also, why the enormous range… $283M – $766M? That’s a half Billion dollars and more than a little absurd. I’m not sure how blue ribbon this commission really was if that’s the best they could do after over a year of studying it. I can’t see putting much faith in their results, and hopefully Gov. Scott sees it that way as well.

    • William R D\’Avignon

      From the report, here is where the funding will come from.
      It is the recommendation of this Commission that the Vermont Legislature review and act on the following list of potential financing mechanisms to support Vermont’s early care and learning system.
      a. Reallocation of savings across all state agencies through operational efficiencies
      b. Business and philanthropic community partnerships and incentives
      i. Public-Private Partnerships
      ii. Pay for Success
      iii. Philanthropic Investments
      c. Early care and learning license plates
      d. Endowment funds
      e. Leveraging additional funding from Medicaid through the global commitment waiver
      f. Exploring options for other revenue sources

      • Jamie Carter

        That does not look like a realistic way to raise 3/4 of a Billion dollars… but thank you for that information.

        • Robert Franklin

          Jamie, check out p. 8 of the report. Figure 1 details the costs of high quality care. The last column lists three dollar figures for three demand levels (24.7%, 70.4% and 100%). Even if 100% of VT children go to child care, the additional investment needed is $347 million, not 3/4 of a billion dollars.

          • Jamie Carter


            From the article
            “It will take an investment of somewhere between $283 million and $766 million to ensure every child has good care.”

      • Deborah Billado

        And then when a through f fails we can hit up the taxpayers for the difference.
        Sounds like a plan… lets develop a BRC to vet that concept.

  • Jennifer Roberts

    I’m still trying to figure out why the student/teacher ratio is the way it is and PreK children aren’t served within our schools.

  • Brianne Goodspeed

    Yesterday the Washington Post published a story about Nobel Prize winner in economics James Heckman who argues that public preschool programs should start at birth because every dollar invested returns $6.30 in societal benefit. Reporter Emma Brown writes: “Now Heckman has released new research showing that the return on investment is even higher for high-quality programs that care for low-income children from infancy to age 5. Children in such zero-to-five programs are more likely to graduate from high school, less likely to be incarcerated than their counterparts who stayed home or enrolled in low-quality programs, had higher IQs and were healthier during the course of their lives, according to the study released Monday.” So I’m not sure it’s a question of whether taxpayers will have to pay or not pay, but whether taxpayers will have to pay now or pay later. I like my money as much as anyone, but I’d rather pay now and see more Vermont kids get a shot at a productive life.

    • Asher McLean

      What Vermont kids? Have these people not noticed that Vermont is a dying state? Our population is increasingly elderly and youth with education and prospects are leaving because it’s just too expensive to live here.

      The young adults that are staying and having kids mostly are very low earners and have children who are raised in severely neglectful environments. Come up to Franklin County and you’ll get a good picture of who’s having children in Vermont these days. These low income families can afford to live here because they are pulling in substantial benefits from the state.

      Pre-school education isn’t a bad idea, the problem is that it’s not enough to compensate a home life (where the child spends most of their time) that is abusive and neglectful. You need good parents first, pre-school second. Vermont isn’t attracting the former anymore and raising the cost of living is going to make sure that trend continues.

  • Edward letourneau

    The recommendations are not affordable. — Which probably means the Blue Ribbon Commission thinks money grows on trees. I would have their study would have included a useful, workable recommendation. This commission has no creditably.

  • John McClaughry

    In 1992 new Governor Howard Dean, in a radio debate with me, proposed “Success by Six”, whereby someone, paid by somebody, would visit mothers in the delivery recovery room with lots of good ideas for raising their new child until the public schools could take over at age 6. Startled, I inquired just what the cost would be to the state for such intensive (not to mention intrusive) services. Howard replied, as if he actually believed this, “Nothing…It won’t cost anything.” I wish I had had a snappy reply, like “Yeah, and you probably believe Nixon was innocent, too.”

  • In Vermont, 70% of kids have all their parents in the workforce. That contributes to a dynamic and vibrant economy – but it also provides the ability for parents to afford to pay for things like heat, transportation, food and healthcare. The most critical period of brain development in a person is during the first 3 years of life. This is why this is such an important issue. Those two things are actually facts. The first step is to acknowledge this.

    Realizing that our youngest kids deserve our very best, we move to the next step:

    Collectively, we gather together to seek the best way to support young families so that people and businesses stay in, or move to Vermont, and that those people and business can be as competitive as possible over the long run. I think we can agree on this point as well. That will grow the economy, and allow us to do as well as possible in an increasingly globalized and competitive economy.

    Finally we discuss how these critical goals can be paid for.

  • Paul Richards

    This is how the public sector unions grow their base. This is their feeder program. The bigger the monopoly the better.

    • Jon Corrigan

      This is exactly the way life worked in the former East Germany. A young married couple couldn’t get an apartment until they were expecting a child. When the child was six weeks old, the state took over so both parents could work. By the time the child was ready for Grundschule (grade school), they were sufficiently indoctrinated.

  • Maren Vasatka

    I am shocked by the income levels eligible for assistance under this program. Up to 180,000. Per household can get assistance. At half these figures they should be able to pay for daycare. Give up one of the boats, vacations or second homes and pay for your child’s daycare. Why should we tax the elderly and those on fixed incomes to fund families making up to 180,000. Parents need to make raising their children a priority not an income source.

  • Kelsi Carey

    “For home providers costs shift to roughly $41,000 for babies, $21,000 for toddlers and $14,000 for preschoolers.”

    I’m curious to find out how they reached these numbers. This cannot possibly be what providers are charging. I am a home provider and I don’t charge anywhere near that, nor do any other providers in my area. Infant/toddler care costs (in the high quality programs that I have spoken with) about $9000/year. Preschoolers about $6000/year. And parents are struggling to afford these prices because of the exhuberent cost of health care, housing and other life expenses. If we made that much money there would be so many more providers.

  • Neil Johnson

    How did we ever raise smart competent kids in the past? Know we can only do it with billion dollar programs? 0.850 Billion, surely the state will exceed that estimate. We have entered the financial twilight zone.

  • Peter Everett

    I bet if government really cared about the cost of anything (it doesn’t), there would be a way of determining if there is waste or fraud in any, especially entitlement, programs. The same old rhetoric “there isn’t enough to worry about”, “we wouldn’t be able to afford the people to track down fraud or abuse”, doesn’t hold water. If government spends $100K on staff and finds any figure above that, isn’t it worth it? The saying “you’ve got to spend money to make money” makes sense. Anything that comes out in the positive, saves the taxpayer. Doesn’t it? Is there abuse in any program? Google other states. PA just found a 23 year old mother defrauding the government $128K, claiming 3 children she didn’t have. Think VT doesn’t have people like this? If you think this is OK, please pay my portion of taxes. I work too damn hard to have this going on with my funds I voluntarily(?????) give to the state. Think of the state hobby “Embezzlement”. That speaks a lot for VT honesty.