Editorial: Childcare beats $10,000 gift

If Vermont and towns like Middlebury, Bristol, Vergennes and others throughout Addison County want to attract young entrepreneurs, professionals, skilled laborers and their families, they should heed the warning of Michelle Leftheris, a native of Brooklyn. N.Y., who moved to Middlebury last year as an assistant professor at Middlebury College. Her warning reflects her struggle to find adequate childcare for her young daughter. 
Forget the state’s initiative to attract newcomers to the state with a $10,000 incentive to move, she says, if the state fails to meet reasonable expectations for childcare facilities.
“I wouldn’t recommend friends with kids to come here,” she told us in an interview (click here to read her story), and with good reason.
For the past year she and her husband have sought accredited childcare for their now two-and-half year old daughter, only to be disappointed with the lack of available openings. They are not alone. In a recent statewide study done earlier this year, the report found that in Addison County 67 percent of infants and 55 percent of toddlers likely to need care outside the home don’t have access to any regulated facilities, and 87 percent of infants and 70 percent of toddlers don’t have access to high-quality (4 or 5 star) programs.
That’s shockingly bad and a serious detriment to attracting new jobs and young people and families to our communities.
Gov. Phil Scott has given lip service to this issue through his repeated push to increase funding for pre-K and higher education, but only if he can take such funding from existing spending at the preK-12 system. That is, he recognizes the need for additional early childcare funding, but he’s not willing to spell out and fund a program to make it happen. It’s the same with other aspects of his campaign to make Vermont more affordable: it makes a good one-liner during the campaign, but the promise is meaningless if no programs are articulated, vetted in committee, and funded in a thoughtful budget.
And not every fix has to do with increased funding. The fact that supply is high and the market fails to meet that demand suggests that Vermont has imposed regulations that make it difficult, if not impossible, to operate early childcare facilities without significant state subsidies. The state should look at the causes for Vermont’s high childcare costs, compare that to other states, and suggest remedies to reduce regulatory restrictions and bring costs down.
One option might consider the excess capacity in many of the state’s elementary schools. That space could come at little cost if the state made any necessary modifications to existing regulations and perhaps encouraged such use through tax incentives.
Whatever the solution, it’s an issue that demands the state’s full attention, and any creative ideas that Addison County leaders might muster as well. As it is, all the good publicity gained from programs like giving away $10,000 incentives will more than be negated by stories of inadequate childcare that frustrate newcomers who might want to make Vermont their home.

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