Child Care Is Too Costly For Many Low-Income Vermonters, Report Says
Vermont spent about 15 percent of its state budget on early childhood education in 2013. A little less than half of that expense supported K-3 education, and the rest targeted the needs of younger children. But many working families still cannot afford child care, according to a new report from an early childhood advocacy group.
The update on state spending comes from Building Bright Futures, a non-profit that serves as Vermont's advisory council for early education. It reports that the median rate for childcare in Vermont is just over $9,000 per child. That's about one-third the median income of a single mother. For a single father, child care gobbles up about a quarter of annual earnings. Building Bright Futures Director Julie Coffey says those expenses make it tough for low-income families to enter and stay in the workforce.
"Our administrators in state government are doing the very best with the resources they have on hand," said Coffey. "The problem is that there are not enough resources, and we are not reaching enough families."
According to the report, Vermont's childcare subsidies are about half what the federal government recommends.
Cost is not the only challenge. The other problem is statewide capacity. Coffey says there are not enough childcare programs for people who need them. According to the report, child care providers have the ability to serve about 27,500 children – but at least twice that many would enroll, if there were affordable slots for them.
Even those families who can access subsidized child care may be having trouble meeting other basic needs that ensure a child's health and welfare. For example, the budget report finds that the state's welfare-to-work program Reach Up is the biggest part of the state's support system for family assistance, costing $26 million each year. But Reach Up reaches only 75 percent of families eligible for it.
The Building Bright Futures report is based on data collected from 2013. Director Coffey says she's seen the state's investment in early childhood education grow somewhat since then, and she is looking forward to 2016, when every 3- and 4-year-old will be offered state-subsidized pre-school for 10 hours each week.