Another Opinion, Editorial

Vermont’s New Child Care Law is Already Paying Dividends 

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MONTPELIER – As state lawmakers representing rural communities in our state, we are tasked with finding solutions to complex challenges and making Vermont a more affordable place for families to live. It’s no secret that Vermont is in the midst of a child care crisis, but by making historic long-term investments in child care through Act 76 and centering rural communities in our policies, we’re creating more affordability for families. 

Over 60% of Vermont’s youngest children who are likely to need child care currently live in a child care desert. In some of Vermont’s most rural areas, that number is as high as 90%. Some of our constituents have said they’re forced to drive 80 miles or more each day to access child care, just so they can remain in the workforce and earn a living. The lack of affordable, quality child care has a direct impact on our state’s economy. Families we talk to have shared that they’re saving less, working less, spending less, and even deciding to have fewer children. This has been unacceptable for far too long. 

After hearing these stories and seeing the particular impact the child care crisis is having on our rural communities, last year we came together across political parties and backgrounds to pass Vermont’s newest child care law, Act 76. Implementation is underway, and we are thrilled to see the positive impacts this law is already having. Through new investments, child care will become more affordable, which will help make Vermont more affordable for families. In early April, and then again in October, Act 76 is expanding income eligibility for child care tuition assistance, helping more Vermont families pay for child care. Now, a family of four earning $124,800 per year with two young children in care may qualify for tuition assistance, saving them as much $260 per week. By the end of 2024, over 7,000 additional Vermont children and their families may be eligible for tuition assistance.  

This is a significant amount of change in a short amount of time. Our rural communities are front-and-center in this wave of progress.

As Act 76 rollout continues, we are seeing its impacts around the state and close to home: in Hyde Park, Kid Savvy Family Childcare used new funding to transition a home-based program into a new child care center serving more children. They’ve also increased staff wages, and went from one family qualifying for child care tuition assistance to seven after Act 76’s expansion of the state’s child care subsidy program in April. In Swanton, two registered home care programs merged to form the town’s only licensed child care center, tripling local capacity and creating five new jobs. In Wilmington, Beaver Brook Children’s School renovated part of an old high school building to expand its child care program, increased staff compensation, and is now offering annual bonuses to improve recruitment and retention. These examples of progress are only the beginning. 

In many parts of rural Vermont, families rely on home-based child care programs. In July, Act 76 will give even more support to family child care homes by providing an additional increase in payments. These funds will better support current providers and make it easier for those thinking about starting a family child care program to begin offering that essential service to their community. 

Having access to affordable, quality child care can be life changing for children and their families, and for the broader community as well – when early childhood educators are paid what they need to stay in their career path, parents are able to return to work, and children get the early learning support they need to thrive long-term, we all win. Addressing the child care crisis can drastically increase equity and opportunities for our rural families, and that’s why we are so proud to see the early success of Act 76. 

As rural legislators, we pledge to continue our efforts to address the child care crisis. We will continue to work with our colleagues from all political parties and in every corner of the state to ensure Act 76 is properly implemented and to continue building a child care system that works for everyone. 

This commentary was also written by Representative Ashley Bartley from Fairfax representing Franklin-1 District; Representative Kelly Pajala from Londonderry representing Windham-Windsor-Bennington District; and Representative Tristan Roberts from Halifax representing Windham-6 District. Representative Katherine Sims from Craftsbury representing Orleans-4 District. 

Rep. Katherine Sims

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