Report: fully funded Vt. child care carries $645M price tag

Published: Jan. 17, 2023 at 10:19 AM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Easing Vermont’s child care crunch could cost taxpayers an additional quarter of a billion dollars. Lawmakers are combing through a long-awaited report outlining the cost and potential funding sources to give every Vermont family access to child care.

The Rand Corporation report released Tuesday provided a new spark to the state’s long-simmering conversation about funding a universal child care system.

“This year would be great. And all the puzzle pieces -- especially after today’s report -- are here. So, it’s our job to put them all together,” said Aly Richards with the child advocacy group Let’s Grow Kids.

According to the new report, creating a universal pre-k system with a well-paid workforce would require an additional public investment of $179 million to $279 million a year. With that added investment, the poorest families would pay nothing for child care and families of four making up to $135,000 would receive subsidies on a sliding scale. To pay for it, the report lists several options including a 0.9% payroll tax, a 2% increase in the sales tax, new soda taxes, or a combination of them all.

Advocates say that additional public investment is needed to overcome the deep systemic challenges to accessing and affording child care in Vermont. Long wait lists for families, tuitions costing tens of thousands of dollars, and subpar wages for providers. The lack of affordable options forces some parents to drop out of the workforce, impacting the overall economy.

Fixing the problem is a big priority for Democrats, who hold majorities in the House and Senate. But democratic leaders say they needed more time to study the report before commenting.

Any proposal would eventually land on the desk of Governor Phil Scott, who like others, is still reviewing the report. A spokesperson for the governor said, in part: " ... investing in early care and learning is a top priority for his administration. However, he has also been clear that he is not willing to raise taxes on already overtaxed Vermonters.” They add that the governor’s budget address on Friday will build on the work to make child care affordable.

Aly and other advocates say the conversation has room to grow in the coming months. “We just elected over 100 child care champions who understand this issue in great detail and understand the scope of it, including the price tag and these very intricate details on affordability thresholds and other pieces. This is our debate together over the next couple of months,” Aly said.

Several key committees this week will hear from the Rand Corporation to get a sense of the numbers. Later, businesses will be talking with lawmakers about child care challenges. Lawmakers say it’s the beginning of a process that will continue all session and potentially into the next session.

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