Letter to the editor: Bill would affect private schools
I have been trying to stay up to date regarding the legislation of the S.56 and H.208 bills in the Vermont Legislature. I’ve read commentaries from Ruth Hardy and a piece in the Independent. One of my main concerns is that the details are drastically overlooked, which I’m afraid will lead to negative outcomes for both families and the childcare industry. I am including something that I wrote in regard to the S.56 bill.
Bill S.56 will essentially eliminate private preschools by solely funding public schools for children ages 4 and 5 (before they are eligible to enter kindergarten) and threaten the childcare industry as a whole, forcing private childcare businesses to close, creating a larger childcare crisis. This in turn will compel parents to stay home, out of the workforce, crippling our economy even further.
Currently, private programs (both homes and centers) can choose to participate in the Universal Preschool Partnership which allows 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds in that program 10 free hours of preschool per week for a 35-week period. Just in Addison County alone, there are approximately 16 private programs that are Universal PreK Partners. Parents/guardians can choose to send their child to either a center-based or home-based preschool and the 10 hours is funded regardless of the location of the early childhood education program in relation to the child’s hometown.
Most preschools also provide care both before and after school, on school vacations and during the summer. Under this new bill, 3-year-olds will no longer be eligible for the preschool funding and the children who are age eligible (4- and 5-year-olds) will be forced to go to a public school PreK if they want access to the “free” funding. Bill S.56 states that parents can still opt to send their 4-year-olds to a private program, but they would have to either pay the full tuition either out of pocket or collect 100% state subsidy. This greatly limits a parent’s choice, not to mention that there is no requirement for before/after school care, vacation days and summer break in the public preschool. Forcing parents to choose between free funding and full-time care puts them in a precarious position.
Childcare programs are regulated by the Child Development Division. The regulations for a registered provider (home provider) state that we can care for up to 2 children under the age of 2 years old and up to 4 children between the ages of 2 and 5 years old. Sponsors of S.56 propose that moving children to public school will create more space in private childcare for children from ages birth to 3 years old. In reality, providers are mandated to follow the regulations which limit the number of children we are able to care for within certain age ranges. In my personal experience, I have noticed the biggest need for care is for children under the age of 2 years old, mainly due to the capacity limitation. If a program loses 4-year-olds, they cannot simply replace them with 1-year-olds.
Childcare providers and educators put children and families first and foremost, often at our own personal sacrifice. Having said that, in order to provide the best care, we do need to be profitable in our business. Ways that we ensure this happens is to provide quality education to our children and families so that each full-time spot remains occupied. Bill S.56 jeopardizes childcare businesses and family stability. If a provider cannot fill fulltime spots, he/she may be forced to close, affecting multiple families. If a family cannot afford to send their 4-year-old child to a private preschool, according to this bill, they will be forced to attend public preschool, which operates during school hours, leaving summers, vacations and before/after school without childcare. Many providers cannot financially afford to leave a full-time spot vacant in order to accommodate vacations, before/after school, snow days, etc., for a 4-year-old that regularly attends public preschool. The family whose child attends the public preschool is without care during the summer, vacations and before/after school. This endless cycle places a hardship on both the provider and the family.
In addition, if regulated childcare programs are forced to close, it paves the way for more unregulated childcare businesses to open. Since these black-market programs are not regulated, they can accept as many kids as they need in order to obtain the annual salary they require, which is not in the best interest of children and could greatly impact the safety and well-being of each child in that program.
Although Act 166, our current plan, is not perfect, it does allow parents/guardians to choose where their child is educated and satisfies the needs of a childcare provider. There is always room for improvement, but Bill S.56 falls extremely short as an answer to our childcare crisis.
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