Governor Peter Shumlin’s plan to address the cost of childcare by taking money from one program for poor Vermonters and putting it towards childcare subsidies has already prompted debate at the Statehouse.
But parents of all income levels bemoan the state of childcare in Vermont. Talk to parents of young children and they’ll tell you that finding good childcare is a struggle. They say the childcare centers with openings often have uncertain reputations and parents tend to avoid them. And when the "good" centers have openings, they’re often so expensive that parents can’t take advantage of the opportunity.
That’s what you hear from parents. But is it an accurate picture? Mitch Golub runs the Vermont Achievement Center in Rutland. It’s one of the biggest childcare centers in the state and it’s also a referral agency for families in Rutland County.
"I think it’s very accurate," Golub says. "And it’s also very unfortunate and it’s not in the best interest of our children or our communities or our state." Golub says he understands parents’ frustration with their childcare options but says it’s equally burdensome for childcare providers.
"It’s hard to have affordable childcare. How expensive it is yet how quickly those expenses add up for the childcare centers with salary and benefits and facilities…"
Reeva Murphy works in the Child Development Division of the Department for Children and Families. She says the average annual cost for an infant or toddler at a childcare center in Vermont is more than $9000.
"I used to be a childcare director," Murphy says. "And I used to have parents go ‘oh, if you do the math, you guys are raking in the money.’ And I would show them my profit and loss statement and say, 85 percent of our costs go out in salaries and wages and benefits, and none of those were as good as they should have been. And then you’ve got your facility…"
While many parents are sympathetic to the struggles of those who provide care for their children, they would still like to see childcare available at a lower cost. Golub thinks the governor’s proposal to direct nearly $17 million from the Earned Income Tax Credit program into childcare subsidies could help relieve some of the pressure.
"The idea is right," he emphasizes. "You increase subsidy; you increase quality; and you increase availability."
But it’s that availability piece that has many parents worried. Parents have expressed concern that the 900 or so families expected to be able to afford additional childcare through increased subsidies will only serve to tighten childcare availability.
Deputy Commissioner Murphy says the governor’s plan is designed to do the opposite. By bringing more children into the market, she says daycare providers may find it worthwhile to increase the number of kids they can care for.
"We do have facilities funds to help them to expand. We have technical assistance around those things. So our goal is that by us being a better payer and a good supporter in the market, that it expands for everybody, doesn’t contract for anybody."
But the governor’s proposal still faces a tough legislative fight in the Statehouse.