Advocates urge legislators to support early childhood education

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(Host) Early childhood educators in Washington County are urging legislative candidates to support additional funding for preschool programs. The group says the state can save millions of dollars in social and correctional services in the future if it invests in early education programs now.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Sound of kids playing.)

(Kinzel) More than dozen Vermont House and Senate candidates came to the Family Center of Washington County to get a first hand look at the importance of early childhood programs. Demand for quality child care is growing in Vermont as more parents work. It’s estimated that existing regulated childcare programs only meet between 50 to 60 percent of the need for these services.

Early childhood educators are concerned about the affordability of their programs. The average cost for center-based infant care in Vermont is just over $7,000 a year; the average state subsidy is roughly $3,700. Another concern is the low wages paid to child care providers. Head teachers often earn under $20,000 a year and turnover is rampant: one-third of all child care providers leave their job every year.

The executive director of the Family Center of Washington County, Lee Lauber, wanted to get legislative candidates together to help them understand the importance of early education programs:

(Lauber) “We spend more when kids go to public school and through their higher education years then we do when their brain is at its most formative. And if we want to make sure that every child gets off to a good start, then we want to increase the percentage of investment that we are making in those early years and that Vermont can make choices and the legislators can shape those choices.”

(Kinzel) Donnie Osman is the community organizer for the Central Vermont Early Childhood Council. Osman says a dollar invested in early education today will save the state seven dollars in future services:

(Osman) “The science behind the savings is there. We have to convince the legislators that in the long term they are going to save enormous amounts of money that we’re paying. And what’s difficult about it in the Legislature is that the payoff is not next year or the year after or within the two-year election cycle that we have. The payoff is five, ten, 15, 20 and 25 years down the road.”

(Kinzel) Education Commissioner Richard Cate has highlighted early education as a key priority for the 2005 Legislative session. Cate says new assessment data show critical gaps in math and reading skills of elementary school children throughout the state. Cate says it’s essential to expand early education programs if these gaps are to be narrowed.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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