Vermont’s child care, early education administration is ‘fundamentally broken,’ report finds

Children attending the Part 2 Kids Child Care Center at Allen Brook School in Williston eat breakfast after morning meeting in September 2020. The authors of a new report, commissioned by the Legislature last year, recommended that a new government entity is created to oversee child care. and early education in Vermont. File photo by Glenn Russell / VTDigger

The state apparatus that controls Vermont’s child care and early education systems is “fundamentally broken,” according to a new report that found staff shortages, disorganization and a lack of coordination between state agencies.

Vermont should consider creating a “single government unit focused on early childhood,” with one specific person in charge, the authors of the 51-page report wrote, noting that the system “is not the state in its current state.” of Vermont’s children and families. ”

The report, commissioned by the Vermont Legislature last year, was written by Foresight Law and Policy, a DC-based education law firm, and Watershed Advisors, an education consulting firm in New Orleans.

The authors are not the first people to come to that conclusion, or to recommend the reorganization of the programs. For years, state and local education officials and child care advocates have expressed concern that the state’s programs for young children are disorganized and ineffective.

Friday’s report “details we’ve known for years,” said Aly Richards, CEO of Let’s Grow Kids, a child care advocacy nonprofit, in a statement. “Our childcare system works for no one – not for families, children, early childhood educators, and certainly not for our workforce and economy.”

The firms drew their conclusions from interviews and focus groups with more than 85 “early childhood stakeholders” and reviewed analyzes and data from previous publications.

They found that Vermont’s early childhood programs were spread over too many areas of state government, which were understaffed and often struggled to coordinate with each other.

Pre-K is jointly administered by the Vermont Agency of Education and the Agency of Human Services. Within the Human Services Agency, the Department of Children and Families licenses child care centers, handles child care subsidies, and oversees resources for young children with special needs.

But the Department of Health and the Department of Mental Health, which are within the Human Services Agency but separate from the Department of Children and Families, also provide services for young children.

Meanwhile, children attend pre-K in both public and private programs, while most child care programs are private. This can cause confusion as the requirements for different types of programs may differ. And many private companies fear that government officials will favor their public counterparts at the expense of them.

“Both (the Agency for Education) and (the Agency for Human Services) play a role in oversight in different environments, and we’ve heard several stories from providers about the two agencies providing guidance that were wrong – or even contradictory, “reads the report. “In some cases, vendors have told us to ask one agency about an issue, get an answer they don’t like, and then simply go to the other agency to get another answer.”

State child care administrators also do not collect or organize “useful overarching data” that can provide a clear picture of how well the systems are working, the report found.

Another report, also commissioned by the Legislature, will focus on the cost of potential changes to the system. This report, which was contracted to the RAND Corporation, is due to appear in December 2023.

Elected officials in Vermont have been trying for years to reshuffle the state’s early childhood programs. Since Vermont’s universal pre-K program began operating in 2016, it has raised complaints that its joint management structure – which is shared between the Education and Human Services – is unmanageable.

Multiple appointed civil servants and legislators have called for the administration of pre-K at the Education Agency to be folded.

Last year, Gov. Phil Scott proposed a solution that would go even further: He recommended folding pre-K and almost all child care programs into the Agency of Education, with some going to the Department of Children and Families. In its proposal, the departments of Health and Mental Health will also retain certain responsibilities.

But those efforts have not yet come to fruition.

Jason Maulucci, a spokesman for Scott, said the governor had made child care a top priority.

“If a management change will improve affordability and access, he’s full of ears,” Maulucci said. “He has not yet reviewed the final report in detail, and will evaluate it as we approach the next legislative session with members of his administration through that lens.”

Spokesmen for the agencies of Education and Human Services said they welcomed the report’s recommendations.

“The administration of these programs is inherently complex, so we are welcome to receive feedback on how we can improve the structure of these programs within the state government,” Suzanne Sprague, a spokeswoman for the Education Agency, said in an email. said.

“We appreciate getting this new report and we’re reviewing the recommendations carefully,” said Miranda Gray, Vermont’s deputy commissioner for child development at the Department of Children and Families.

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