Vt. lawmakers gear up to address child care crunch

Published: Jan. 16, 2023 at 5:44 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Ask just about any young family in Vermont and they’ll say finding child care is a challenge. Vermont lawmakers this week will get a sense of what it would take to fund a robust system.

On a snowy Martin Luther King Day, Melissa Jensen is spending the day with her 15-month-old son. She works as a nurse and has been searching for months to find someone to watch her son while she’s at work.

“Unbeknownst to me, we should have started planning prior to becoming pregnant, I think,” Jensen said. “Interviewing people, putting out Facebook feeds, asking for tips and tricks of how do you find someone to watch your child.”

Jensen’s challenges are not unique. Vermont’s child care system is faced with a host of challenges including a lack of qualified care providers and affordability.

It’s challenges that providers at Next Generation know well. Several dozen workers at the infant to Pre-K program took the holiday to meet for professional development. “It’s parents, it’s teachers, and then it’s the quality and cost of the program,” said the organization’s Miranda Belles. She says attracting staff is hard because pay is low -- ranging from $14 to $20 an hour -- and they can’t pay more without raising tuition, which for most families already runs into the tens of thousands of dollars per child. “So if we can’t get parents to afford quality programs, then they aren’t entering in, so we don’t have kids to pay the staff, so we cant keep staff and we don’t have programs.”

Studies have shown that quality child care fosters physical, emotional, and intellectual growth, helping to close the opportunity gap. “This is crucial to the building blocks of how society functions,” Belles said.

Samantha Trajkovski, an economics professor at Saint Michael’s College, says spending a third of a family’s income on child care isn’t financially sustainable. “St that point is when we see a lot of families rethinking their finances and whether it’s sustainable for both parents to work full-time,” she said. And that could mean one less person in the workforce, she adds.

With her son now in daycare, Jensen says she’d get back to pursuing her passion working as a nurse. “I’m glad to be doing that and be a mom part of the week. We found a happy balance.”

The primary question for lawmakers remains how to give families that balance while still keeping a balanced budget. Over 100 business owners late Monday afternoon sent a letter to legislative leaders asking for action on child care.

On Tuesday, the Rand Corporation will present a report to lawmakers outlining the cost of a system where families spend fewer than 10% of their income on child care and taxpayers make up the difference. The cost is expected to be hundreds of millions of dollars and it is expected to spark ongoing discussions of how to fund it.

Related Stories:

Vt. lawmakers poised to address child care crunch; Report offers roadmap

Vt. House speaker to focus on child care next session

New housing aims to address health care staffing crisis

Chronic staffing problems stress Vermont’s child care centers — and the families they serve

New funding available for child care worker training

Efforts underway to ease Vermont’s child care crunch

Are efforts to make child care in Vermont more affordable paying off?

Vt. child care advocates make push for major investments