This commentary is by Robert Haynes, who was executive director of Green Mountain Economic Development Corp. from 2015 until 2021 and now leads the corporation’s development efforts for a large regional child care center at Exit 4 in Randolph, with the Orange County Parent Child Center as the operator.
Virtually every business owner or manager Green Mountain Economic Development Corp works with as the regional development corporation for Windsor and Orange counties cites the lack of decent housing and child care as the most important factors hampering recovery from Covid.
We believe this it true throughout New England and beyond. Both were well-known issues beforehand but are obvious to everyone now. They cut across all professions, income levels, genders, ethnicities, political persuasions and locations, and they influence decisions about returning to work, expanding hours, finding a new job, moving to Vermont, or moving to a different place in-state.
As we learned in the 1970s when public kindergarten became a viable option for everyone in Vermont, the positive results for children enrolled in well-run programs are substantial and irrefutable. It is strange and very sad therefore that the old Nixon-era arguments against publicly funded kindergarten are now being voiced by some against increasing funding for high-quality child care and pre-K for single parents or families who require that option.
For those Vermonters who feel their children would be better served at home and can afford that solution, they would remain free to do so, as they are with home schooling.
It is unfortunate that the U.S. lags most other industrialized countries, 36th out of 37 in one study, in providing a viable solution. As Gov. Scott frequently says, the most important stages of human development begin at birth, determining a good future and success in life.
The quality of any program is influenced by funding, and it requires careful consideration and deliberation. This is true of all decisions about public benefits, including transportation, safety, health and education, and the societal and economic costs of not dealing with the existing lack of high-quality child care are not something we can ignore any longer. The alternative is quite ugly, and I am reminded of the old saying, “You get what you pay for.”
I encourage you to speak to your employer or employees, elected officials, child care center operators and educators to see what you can learn about the status of child care in your region, plans to respond to the shortage, methods to fund them, and how you can help.
Please keep the lack of housing in mind as well and thank you for considering these issues.