By Janet McLaughlin
In 2021, with the passage of landmark child care legislation Act 45, Vermont’s legislature funded a systems analysis of early childhood education governance in the state. The process included dozens of interviews and a review period when early childhood educators and others in the ECE ecosystem offered feedback on the themes that emerged. I was proud to serve on the Advisory Committee for this project on behalf of VTAEYC’s members and I believe the analysis accomplished its objectives: a 360-degree perspective and accurate read of our current early childhood education system and recommendations for a future state governance structure that better serves Vermont’s children, families, and educators.
The final report was issued July 1 by consultants Nasha Patel of Watershed Advisors and Elliot Regenstein of Foresight Law and Policy. You can read the full report on Building Bright Futures’ website, here.
Here’s the core recommendation: Our recommendation is to create a new unit of state government that is focused entirely on early childhood, with a single empowered leader with oversight of a core cluster of key early childhood programs. This new unit should not be administered solely by either the agency of human services or the agency of education.
I find this report and its core recommendation affirming for several reasons. I’ll pull out the three main ones here:
The first is that early childhood education stakeholders already share core beliefs and experiences.
Everyone who participated in the systems analysis represents different entities that play different roles in the system. Yet we share the same baseline understanding of the challenges and the same goals of quality and equity for children and families. For a system that operates in public, private, and nonprofit settings in communities throughout the state, that’s especially important.
One example of that: Vermont is, as a whole, fundamentally committed to developmentally appropriate practice (DAP). In other states, for instance, you might see one sector adheres to DAP, while others are only focused on pre-academics or custodial care of young children. Not so in Vermont.
The second thing I find affirming is the recognition that early childhood is its own field of expertise.
The report honors the complexity of early childhood education, and of the ecosystem that families, educators, and policymakers are both creating and working within. We believe it’s important for early childhood educators to have a seat at the table when it comes to their own governance. Simultaneously, early childhood education exists within a complex set of child and family needs with multiple programs and funding streams designed to address them. When early childhood does not have its own unit carved out, there is no one tasked with navigating that complexity and providing the transparency, coherence, and resources to create the system we know kids and families need. As a result, the burden often falls to under-resourced early childhood educators and program leaders to navigate multiple, sometimes conflicting systems and results in poorer outcomes for children.
As stated on p. 10: “The early childhood system is diverse, and has a broad set of stakeholders central to its success. The lack of a high-level leader to whom a diverse set of stakeholders can raise awareness of concerns and have confidence they are empowered to solve, increases the complexity of the challenge: no single elevated leader feels accountable to all the groups needed for a successful early childhood system.”
That brings me to the third piece I find affirming: seeing a solution in an empowered leader and state unit – and in asking for leadership from our state in creating that unit and role.
I appreciate our government’s commitment thus far to early childhood education, and VTAEYC endorses the creation of a new, empowered unit with authority on early childhood education. Early childhood education is a public good and needs empowered state leadership to hold and implement our shared vision for equitable and excellent early childhood education.
On Monday, July 11, 1-2 PM, Building Bright Futures will host a briefing on the final report with the consultants. Click here to register.
Janet McLaughlin is Executive Director of VTAEYC.