This week, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump announced his plan to make child care more affordable, proposing tax deductions and employer incentives to provide child care to employees. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who has proposed that no family should spend more than 10 percent of its income on child care, has also made child care affordability a central campaign focus.
"It's unprecedented for both major parties' candidates to be on this," said Tom Ashbrook, host of On Point, a radio show broadcast every weekday on NPR stations coast to coast. Ashbrook, guests and callers compared and discussed the candidates' child care plans during Wednesday's live broadcast.
Child care policy is indeed receiving unprecedented attention from candidates this election season and that focus is long overdue. In Vermont, the two major party gubernatorial candidates have been talking about child care on the campaign trail. Why? Because high-quality, affordable child care is an imperative for the success of our children, working families and Vermont's economic development.
Let's Grow Kids analyzed the supply of and demand for child care in Vermont and published the alarming results in the report, "Stalled at the Start: Vermont's Child Care Challenge." Almost half (47 percent) of Vermont infants and toddlers likely to need care do not have access to regulated child care programs and nearly 80 percent of infants and toddlers likely to need care don't have access to high-quality programs.
Vermont's shortage of high-quality, affordable child care is a problem our elected officials cannot ignore. More than 70 percent of Vermont children under the age of six live in families where all available parents are in the labor force. For many of these families, finding high-quality, affordable child care forces tough choices: It pits parents' natural desire to provide their child the best start in life against so many other needs — including their ability to keep a good job.
Before Vermont's primary election, gubernatorial candidates Sue Minter and Phil Scott provided statements to Let's Grow Kids about what they would do, if elected governor, to address Vermont's shortage of high-quality, affordable early care and learning opportunities. We see these statements as a clear recognition that this is an important issue for Vermont families and economic development. The Blue Ribbon Commission on Financing High Quality, Affordable Child Care will issue a report in November with specific recommendations for how to make high-quality care affordable for all families who need it. In the meantime, we appreciate that candidates are focusing on solutions to this problem; the following are brief excerpts from each of the candidate's statements.
"I will work to implement universal pre-K and explore public/private partnerships to make high-quality, affordable early education, and parenting support available to Vermont families," said Sue Minter. "I will work with advocates and providers to improve quality child care through the STARS rating system and grow resources to improve access for quality child care services for more Vermont children and families."
"First, we can aggressively market Vermont and provide incentives to young people to move here to work and start a family," said Phil Scott. "One of the best ways to do that is to ensure a robust network of high-quality and affordable child care. The second incentive to attract working families is to expand innovation and choices in education. Young families should look to every region of Vermont as having abundant educational opportunities for their children. Third, I will support the accountable implementation of Vermont's universal pre-kindergarten law, Act 166, and build upon its likely successes."
To hear more from both candidates, I encourage Vermonters to attend an October 14th candidates' panel discussion on child care and early childhood issues. The panel, which will be moderated by WCAX News Anchor Darren Perron, is being sponsored by more than 20 organizations including the Vermont Association for the Education of Young Children, Let's Grow Kids, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility and the Vermont Business Roundtable. Event details and registration are available online at www.letsgrowkids.org/gubernatorial-candidate-event.
Vermont's next governor will be expected to focus on bolstering Vermont's economy. High-quality, affordable child care goes hand-in-hand with economic prosperity by allowing working parents to keep their jobs, which translates to less turnover for Vermont employers, and by helping to attract young families to move to Vermont, which increases the state's workforce and revenue base. In addition, research shows that high-quality early experiences, especially during the first five years when the brain is developing most rapidly, can reduce long-term social costs in special education, health care and corrections spending.
Let's Grow Kids encourages Vermonters to help steer the policy conversation by attending local, regional and statewide candidates' debates and forums. More information is available on our website at www.letsgrowkids.org/steer-conversation.
Robyn Freedner-Maguire is the campaign director of Let's Grow Kids, a statewide public awareness and engagement campaign about the important role that high-quality, affordable child care can play in supporting the healthy development of Vermont's children during their first five years. For more information, visit www.letsgrowkids.org.