Early childhood education is in the spotlight. It is a national issue, and on the forefront of people’s minds locally as well. A legislative bill was introduced in Vermont this session (H.194), an act relating to establishing incentives for early learning professionals and improving access to child care. There are still numerous people who are responding in social media and to news stories about not wanting to pay for other people’s children. Remarks like, “If you couldn’t afford children, you shouldn’t have had them.” The fact is, this should be something that concerns all Vermonters. Here’s why.

We have an early childhood puzzle on our hands, and we don’t have enough qualified early educators or affordable, quality child care programs for young children, especially infants and toddlers. There is a huge pay disparity in the early childhood field. According to the National Women’s Law Center, women working in the early childhood education field with a bachelor’s degree are making, on average, $12.01 nationally/hour. In Vermont, it is slightly higher at $12.71/hour. Their peers who work in other jobs outside of early childhood education are making $26.44/hour.  

Now one could say, “Well, if we raised the minimum wage this would solve the problem.” However, the issue with raising the minimum wage in small child care businesses is that the increase in wages will come back on parents in the form of a rise in already high tuition rates. A middle-income family of four is paying up to 40 percent of their income to child care according to Let’s Grow Kids, a public awareness and engagement campaign about the important role that high-quality, affordable child care can play in supporting the healthy development of Vermont’s children and the prosperity of our economy now and in the future.

Earlier this year, I listened to Vermont Public Radio’s Vermont Edition with Jane Lindholm. Lindholm had a panel of experts on the show to talk about accessible, affordable childcare along with the newly developing information on the legislative action that was in process. One caller said, “You should wait, until you have kids like my wife, and I did, until you can afford it.” His kids were grown. Times have changed, the cost of housing is higher, the cost of higher education is rising, the cost of owning a car and putting gas in it is higher, and not all systems have kept up with the rising costs. 

Investments in early care and education stabilize the workforce. People can move from out of state and apply for jobs if they know they can find quality, early care, and education. When we invest in children’s early childhood experiences, we are saving money in special education and corrections later on. Even our national military personnel are getting in on advocating for investments in early education because they are seeing that over 70 percent of high school students are unhealthy and unprepared to serve in our nation’s military upon completion of high school. They know that building a solid foundation pays in dividends later. I cite the documentary “No Small Matter” about the potential for quality early care and education to benefit America’s social and economic future.

There is so much more evidence-based research and science that has taught us about the incredible growth a child is doing in their first five years of life. Ninety percent of brain development happens in the first five years with 80 percent of that growth being between birth and three years. Knowing this, can we dispute the investment? 

Ellen Drolette, owner of Sunshine Daydream Child Care, has been an early educator for 24 years. Named one of 50 master leaders in the world by Exchange magazine in 2015 and a global leader in early care and education for the World Forum Foundation. She is co-owner of Positive Spin, LLC, offering professional development and empowerment workshops. Reach Ellen at positivespinllc@gmail.com.

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