2021 NAEYC Public Policy Forum Recap: Our Message to National Leaders

by Sonja Raymond, VTAEYC Executive Director

This March, 20 delegates from Vermont participated in the first virtual Public Policy Forum hosted by NAEYC. This represents the biggest contingent we\’ve ever had – certainly made easier because the forum was held online.

We were glad to get to meet and hold rich conversations with the staffs of both Senator Patrick Leahy and Senator Bernie Sanders. And we were especially pleased that Vermont\’s sole Representative, Peter Welch, was able to join us in (virtual) person to talk about the early childhood education landscape in Vermont. In the photo above, Rep. Welch is in the second row, second from the right.

Our federal delegation has supported relief funds for early childhood education throughout the pandemic, and we thanked them for that. I\’ll share with you the key points of our meetings with each of these national policymakers:

The ECE system has been underfunded and in crisis for years with capacity declining, a serious shortage of qualified early educators, and working parents unable to access desperately needed childcare. The pandemic highlighted the danger of that underfunding and the potential loss of an industry.

What we know is that the investments needed are in a structure likened to a three-legged stool: quality, affordability and accessibility, and compensation.  We need investments in all three legs, or the stool collapses.  In truth, what we have now, and have had for years, is a collapsed stool.

  • Quality relies on an effective, diverse, well-prepared workforce: in order to achieve quality, the workforce needs access to professional preparation programs so they have the skills and competencies to support children’s brain development in the most essential early years. Higher education institutions need support and resources to create and offer the necessary programs, and early educators need access to those programs.
  • Affordability and access: families\’ inability to access to quality ECE programs is affected by the high cost of these programs. It\’s a huge equity issue, because families who are struggling financially have the fewest options, or no access at all. Access is also affected by capacity issues — we have a serious shortage of early childhood educators.  Data tells us that in VT we need an additional 2,000 educators to meet the current demand.
  • A well-compensated workforce: In Vermont, the median wage for early childhood educators is $12.72 per hour. If we want this profession to be one that people want to enter; that they can afford to stay in; where they feel valued, respected, and can support themselves and their families; we need to compensate our workforce fairly.

In order to build the stool and to realize the vision, the federal government must play a key role. The workforce, preparation programs, the state — we all need the federal government as a full partner. It is critical that we stabilize the early childhood education industry in the short term, with enough financial relief to keep programs and the workforce afloat.  If we don’t invest today, they won’t exist tomorrow, and families will not be able to return to work.

We are asking that you support the American Rescue Plan that provides $39 billion for childcare and additional supports for Head Start.  We ask for increased funding for the Block Grant and seek additional funding options to create a bold investment package that will address the true cost of quality and families’ access, that advances higher education quality and access, supports comprehensive scholarships and loan forgiveness for early childhood educators, includes adequate compensation for the profession, and helps to resolve inadequate supply of quality early childhood programs. Please do not penalize overmatching states such as Vermont.

We are ready for this investment, because we have been working for the past three years to advance early childhood education as a recognized profession. We are working to see how Vermont might align with the Unifying Framework that came out of the national initiative Power to the Profession. The vision of that work is:

Each and every child, beginning at birth, has the opportunity to benefit from high-quality, affordable early childhood education, delivered by an effective, diverse, well-prepared, and well-compensated workforce.

Here\’s how we\’re preparing ourselves for investment and success:

  • More than 2,000 members of the current workforce have engaged in discussions about aligning with national efforts. We understand we are the only state doing this grassroots work around the Unifying Framework.
  • The creation of a study group within the Early Childhood Higher Ed Consortium, which represents all four-year programs, the Community College of Vermont, and others. This group explores how closely their professional preparation programs are to what we know will be needed nationally.  There is great collaborative work going on here. We have been told this is a unique collaboration, and actually presented at last year’s NAEYC policy conference about this ongoing work.
  • Bill H.171, supported by an alliance of organizations, is currently under discussion in the legislature. This bill focuses on all three legs of the early childhood education stool: affordability and accessibility for families, a well-prepared workforce, and a well-compensated workforce.