Leffler & Tetrault: Let's make an investment to end Vermont’s child care crisis

This commentary is by Brian Leffler, president, and Nikki Tetrault, director of marketing, at Instrumart in South Burlington.  

Instrumart is a 34-year-old Vermont-based company that was recently voted one of the Best Places to Work in the state of Vermont. Happily calling ourselves an employee-focused company, we are keenly interested in the health and well-being of the families that make up our collective Instrumart family.

For example, Instrumart provides 100% employer-paid health insurance benefits for our employees and their families. This is an investment that we make in our employees and their family's well-being, and we think this investment and our return on this investment are well worth the cost.

We also offer 16 weeks of paid leave, yet many of our new parents are unable to find and afford quality child care for their children so they can return to work. In response to this, we created an “Infants at Work” policy to cover the period from 16 weeks to 8 months (or up until the baby is mobile); however, this support is often not enough.

Child care is a statewide crisis we — and other employers — cannot solve on our own. Right now, according to Vermont’s Child Care Campaign, three out of five of Vermont’s youngest children don’t have access to the child care they need. As a result, employers can’t fill positions because parents can’t work and those fortunate enough to find child care are paying upward of 30% of their household income for child care. 

At the core of the issue, we know our early childhood educators aren’t fairly compensated for their essential work, which limits supply. In our minds and the minds of many, this is what’s called a market failure.

The solution to the child care crisis is well within our reach and will make Vermont a more affordable state. Last month, the RAND Corp. released the long-awaited child care cost analysis and public financing study that confirmed that we can solve this crisis through long-term public investment. 

There is a cost associated with this solution but, as with any of our employee benefits, we do not view this cost as an expense but rather as an investment. RAND’s study showed that an equitable, affordable child care system will provide a much-needed boost to our labor force by liberating thousands of Vermonters who want to work, to enter or reenter the workforce — filling critical jobs throughout our state.

Vermont has been the first to do many things in the United States. This is another chance for our brave little state to lead and model good policy for others to follow.

As business leaders, we must support elected officials to pass and enact laws this legislative session that adequately fund Vermont’s child care system so that we may all reap the benefits we stand to gain from this investment. The pieces are in place and the time to act is now. 

We are proud members of a coalition of employers calling for increased investments in Vermont’s child care system. Together with thousands of Vermonters from all walks of life and from every corner of the state, we can make this change. Vermont’s youngest children are relying on us, so let’s get to work.


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