Early Care & Learning
An Excerpt From BBF’s “How Are Vermont’s Young Children & Families” 2017 Report
Access to affordable, high-quality early care and learning affects more than Vermont’s parents and guardians of young children; it affects the businesses that employ them and our economy.
Early care and learning programs play an important role in the development of Vermont’s young children. When families enroll their children, program quality determines the support for learning and social and emotional development the children will receive. This early support prepares our young children for success in kindergarten and beyond.
Parents in the Labor Force
Seventy-one percent of Vermont’s children under the age of six, and 78% of children between the ages of six and 17, have all available parents in the labor force (Figure 7). This means that many families in the state must balance the care of their children with parent or guardian work demands.
Access to Care
In May 2016, a report released by the statewide campaign called Let’s Grow Kids, using data from the Department for Children and Families Child Development Division (CDD) and the Vermont Department of Health, analyzed the supply of and demand for regulated early care and learning for infants and toddlers in Vermont. The data revealed that 47% of Vermont’s infants and toddlers likely to need child care do not have access to regulated child care programs. Further, 79% of infants and toddlers likely to need care do not have access to high-quality, regulated early care and learning programs.35
Improving Program Quality
Vermont’s Step Ahead Recognition System (STARS) is a voluntary program that recognizes regulated providers for going above and beyond the standard regulations for child care programs. Programs with 4 or 5 stars, or programs that have received national accreditation through the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the National Association of Family Child Care, or National Early Childhood Program Accreditation are recognized as high-quality by several Vermont programs and policies, including Act 166, Vermont’s universal pre-kindergarten law.
Since 2010, Vermont has seen an increase in the percentage of all regulated programs that participate in STARS (Figure 8).
There was also an increase in the percentage of programs in the top tiers of STARS during that time (Figure 9), highlighting the importance of supporting our early childhood workforce in their commitment to improving quality.
While the increase in programs with quality recognition is good news for Vermont, the child care access challenges described on page 16 demand that we ensure more families have access to high-quality early care and learning programs.
In early fall, Vermont’s kindergarten teachers complete the Ready for Kindergarten! Survey (R4K!S) to assess developmental levels for each child in the domains of Physical Development and Health, Social and Emotional Development, Approaches to Learning, Communication, and Cognitive Development. This survey is not a direct assessment of children; rather, it relies on the teacher’s observational knowledge of children’s performance in the first few weeks of kindergarten. In the fall of 2015, after extensive expert review, the Vermont Agency of Education adopted the new Ready
for Kindergarten! Survey (R4K!S). This survey, aligned with the Vermont Early Learning Standards, created a new baseline for kindergarten readiness in Vermont.
In its annual Kindergarten Readiness Report, the Vermont Agency of Education breaks down readiness by gender, eligibility for Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL), and participation in publicly funded Pre-K. Survey results from the last two years (Table 6) reveal readiness gaps based on income level and gender.
Strategies to Turn The Curve
Below are several strategies underway to increase access to high-quality early care and learning for Vermont children and families.
- Universal Pre-K: A significant step in increasing access to high-quality early education was the passage of Act 166, Vermont’s universal Pre-K program, which entitles all children between the ages of three and five who are not yet enrolled in kindergarten to 10 hours each week of publicly funded Pre-K, up to 35 weeks per year. As shown in Table 7, Vermont saw an increase in the number of children enrolled in publicly funded Pre-K in the 2015- 2016 school year, the first year of partial implementation of Act 166.
- Early Learning Challenge Grant: This $36.9 million federal grant has infused significant resources to support a high-quality and accessible early childhood system over the past four years, with the goal of improving kindergarten readiness.
- “Starting Points” Early Care and Learning Professional Networks: Starting Points Networks are locally managed peer-to-peer networks of early care and learning providers that help build local and regional connections, develop local resources, build leadership skills, and offer support and information. These networks are supported by Vermont Birth to Five, a non-profit organization, and Vermont’s Department for Children and Families Child Development Division.
- Shared Services: By working together to share business and programmatic resources, early care and learning programs are able to offer high-quality services for children and families and enhanced work experiences for educators. Early care and learning providers come together to share services such as enrollment, billing and collections, bulk purchasing, professional development, and access to nurses and mental health consultants. Vermont Birth to Five provides support for communities to develop Shared Service hubs and networks, as well as a statewide web-based resource, www.sharedservicesvt.org.
- Workforce Development: In order to increase both capacity and quality in the early care and learning system, the early childhood workforce needs professional preparation and development. In 2017, the Child Development Division contracted with the Community College of Vermont to launch a new, comprehensive early childhood professional development system to meet this urgent system need.
LINK TO VERMONT’S EARLY CHILDHOOD ACTION PLAN: Under Goal #3, “High-Quality Opportunities for All Children,” a key action is to expand access. Identified strategies are to increase quality, capacity, and affordability of early care and learning programs, including establishing Universal Pre-K and increasing investments in the Child Care Financial Assistance Program (see the “Family Economic Well-Being” chapter for more information).
Click here to view the full How Are Vermont’s Young Children & Families 2017 report
35 Vermont Insights. (2017). Infants and toddlers likely to need care without access to regulated child care programs. Retrieved from http://vermontinsights. org/children-likely-to-need-care.
F10. Vermont Insights. (2017). Children 5-years old and under with all parents in labor force. Retrieved from http://vermontinsights.org/5-years-old-and-under-all- parents-in-labor-force.
F11. Vermont Insights. (2017). Children 5-years old and under with all parents in labor force. Retrieved from http://vermontinsights.org/5-years-old-and-under-all- parents-in-labor-force.
F12. Vermont Insights. (2017). STep Ahead Recognition System (STARS) monthly Report. Retrieved from http://vermontinsights.org/stars-monthly.
F13. Vermont Insights. (2017). STep Ahead Recognition System (STARS) monthly Report. Retrieved from http://vermontinsights.org/stars-monthly.
T17. Vermont Agency of Education. (2016). Ready for kindergarten! Survey (R4K!S), 2015-2016: Report to Supervisory Unions/Supervisory Districts. Retrieved from http://education.vermont.gov/sites/aoe/ les/documents/edu-early- education-ready-for-kindergarten-report.pdf.
T18. Vermont Agency of Education. (2017). Ready for kindergarten! Survey (R4K!S), 2016-2017: Report to Supervisory Unions/Supervisory Districts. Retrieved from http://education.vermont.gov/sites/aoe/ les/documents/edu-early- education-ready-for-kindergarten-report-2016-2017_0.pdf.
T19. Vermont Department for Children and Families. (2017). Data highlights from APR 2016. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esr c=s&source=web&cd=2&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwj13v3B-O3WAhUCTC YKHUKDDgkQFggsMAE&url=http%3A%2F%2Fbuildingbrightfutures.org%2Fwp- content%2Fuploads%2F2017%2F07%2F2016-APR-Data-Highlights-PUBLIC-2. docx&usg=AOvVaw3cu-2L1YqpR7_hVIA7Psz-.