Recognizing Unsung Heroes: Vermont Early Childhood Educators

A beautiful fall day in Burlington arrived for the presentation of Vermont’s second Early Educator of the Year Award this October. The appropriateness of holding the award ceremony during the VAEYC Conference was reinforced as the best choice for recognizing the important work being done in Vermont’s early childhood community. This is the annual event where the early childhood community comes together to share ideas and experiences, learn from one another, and celebrate their work..

Reno and Apgar 2016 early educator of the year finalists with Aly Richards CEO Permanent Fund

Aly Richards (center), CEO of the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children, with the Early Educator of the Year Award winner Jacquelyn Reno (left), and finalist Kathi Apgar (right), at the VAEYC Annual Conference 2016.

In an earlier post, Rick Davis explained why the Permanent Fund created its Early Educator of the Year Award. But it’s worth repeating: Besides parents, early educators are the first teachers our children have and their work lays an important foundation at the most crucial time of development in our children’s lives. The Permanent Fund created the Early Educator of the Year Award to recognize and celebrate excellence in the teaching of Vermont’s young children to bring attention to the importance of high-quality care and early education.

Early educators are working in what we believe is Vermont’s most important profession. By honoring those who are doing great work, we are demonstrating to all Vermonters what high quality early care and learning looks like.

In this video, we give you a look at the two providers (and their programs) that we honored with this year’s award for center-based programs. The award winner, Jackie Reno, Burlington resident and educator at the Janet S. Munt Family Room, was named 2016’s Early Educator of the Year. New Haven resident Kathi Apgar of the YMCA at University of Vermont Medical Center Early Childhood Program was the award finalist.

Early Childhood Education Professionals Deserve More

early_educator

Research tells us that the most important component of high-quality early care and education is the quality and consistency of the caregiver or teacher. Unfortunately, the early childhood field does not offer the wages or professional support necessary to effectively attract and retain the very best early educators.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics Effect

One factor contributing to these limitations is the fact that many early care and education professions are classified by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics as service professions, rather than education professions. This matters because data collected by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics is used by individuals, businesses, community organizations, state and federal agencies, and policymakers to make important decisions about workforce development, including the compensation levels necessary to recruit and retain workers within a given industry.

That’s why the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children and our initiatives, Let’s Grow Kids and Vermont Birth to Five, are calling on the US Bureau of Labor Statistics to reconsider its recent rejection of a proposal that would have reclassified early childhood care and education professionals as education occupations, like elementary school professionals.

Early childhood professionals are educators. Their understanding of early learning and development allows them to provide young children with activities that promote healthy cognitive, social and emotional development in safe and nurturing environments, which lays the foundation for success in school, relationships and life. But as long as early childhood care and education professions are listed as service industry occupations, it will be difficult to compensate them for skills and knowledge that more closely aligns with their elementary education counterparts than with employees in the service industry.

Vermont’s New Child Care Licensing Regulations

Vermont’s early childhood care and education providers play a critical role in our state’s education and child development system. This is recognized in the recent development of Vermont’s new child care licensing regulations. The state established high education and professional development criteria for its early childhood care and education workforce. This is entirely appropriate because in Vermont, as in the rest of the country, child care workers, preschool teachers, teacher assistants and early childhood program administrators are helping to build the brains of children and prepare them for kindergarten and beyond.

Even though early childhood professionals have educational, professional development and training requirements similar to those of their counterparts in public schools, Vermont child care workers earn an average annual salary of less than $25,000, often without benefits. Think about that. The people who spend their days providing Vermont’s youngest children with safe, nurturing learning experiences are struggling to cover their basic expenses and to support their own families. This is unacceptable.

Vermont Early Childhood Workforce “Stalled”

A state-by-state review of workforce policies and practices in the early childhood field, called the “Early Childhood Workforce Index 2016,” rated Vermont as “stalled out” when it comes to compensation strategies. The review was done by researchers at the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, Berkeley. Researchers found that those working in the early care and education field are among the lowest-paid employees in the nation. The report calls for a transformation of early childhood jobs and early childhood policies and infrastructure. Absent this change, the report warns, “We will continue to witness educators leaving the field in search of employment that offers a livable wage, rewards their educational attainment, and provides the respect that is their due. And the next generation of young women and men will continue to eschew jobs teaching our youngest children.”

In Vermont, we’re losing dedicated and passionate early childhood professionals at an alarming rate. From May 2010 to May 2016, the number of regulated child care programs in Vermont decreased by 12.5%. The Vermont Department of Labor has projected that between 2012 and 2022, almost 70% of child care worker positions that become available in Vermont will be due to turnover, placing child care in the top 10 occupations in the state with the highest number of openings, on average, per year.

Vermont Has a Child Care Challenge

While more than 70% of children under age six have all available parents in the workforce, a recent report by Let’s Grow Kids found that almost half of Vermont infants and toddlers likely to need care don’t have access to any regulated child care programs and almost 80% don’t have access to high-quality programs.

High-quality child care is of utmost importance in preparing our future workforce, and high-quality care depends on highly-qualified professionals. In order to achieve the recognition early childhood professionals need, we must acknowledge their important roles.

The Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children has a mission to ensure every Vermont child has access to high-quality and affordable early care and education by 2025. In order to achieve this goal, we need to support our early childhood workforce. We also need to make high-quality care more affordable to parents and providers.

Vermont’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Financing High Quality, Affordable Child Care—which includes business representatives, policymakers, parents and child care providers—will issue a report in late November that will recommend financing strategies to support high-quality, affordable child care in Vermont. It will be up to Vermont’s next governor and legislative body to act on the Commission’s recommendations and to implement policies aimed at solving Vermont’s child care challenge.

Vermont Can Lead the Nation

The Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children believes our state can lead the nation on this critical issue. I encourage Vermonters to join our efforts to make high-quality, affordable child care a reality for every Vermont child who needs it.

Join the campaign at www.letsgrowkids.org to get involved.

Linking Climate Change and Early Childhood Development

I was greatly honored when I heard I would receive the Vermont Lifetime Achievement Award from the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD). But I was surprised when I realized I would be accepting this award during the organization’s second Summit on Vermont’s Climate Economy. What would someone from an organization that has made high-quality early childhood education its mission say to a group of climate change advocates? After learning the Summit’s theme was “Ideas to Action,” I understood the parallels between the Permanent Fund’s work and the climate summit. The two are more closely related than one might think.

children at play on beach

Climate science and brain science: Neither is rocket science

Climate science is credible, reliable and offers a clear picture of what contributes to our changing climate and how we can reverse the trend. The brain science is equally compelling, irrefutable and offers a clear blueprint for a child’s healthy brain development and what contributes to unhealthy development. Amazingly, the brain science shows us that 80% of a child’s brain is developed by the age of three—telling us that we must act in the very early years to get it right.

Inaction or missteps will lead to serious consequences

There are serious consequences for Vermont if we don’t reverse the effects of climate change. More extreme weather events (think, Tropical Storm Irene) are an example. In early childhood, our extreme weather event is represented by the dramatic increase in special education costs, which have increased by $137 million, a doubling in the last 15 years, while enrollment has decreased by 20,000 students. Early identification of developmental delays and improved nutrition can help. We must work to identify at-risk children earlier—from birth to five—so we can start services earlier when the developing brain and body are most receptive to these interventions. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, starting services earlier can in some cases reduce the need for costly services during the school years or eliminate the need for them altogether.

We’re on an unsustainable path

With climate change, melting glaciers and rising waters tell us that we are not on a sustainable path. With early childhood development, nearly 50% of our kids are showing up at kindergarten “not ready to learn” and it’s likely that same 50% are not going on to college. Like other rural states, Vermont has one of the highest rates in the nation of kids not going to college! This is not sustainable. With an aging demographic in Vermont, we cannot afford to give up on any of our children. We need all of them in a trained workforce contributing to a healthy economy.

Time is of the essence: Act now or pay (much more) later

With climate change, we cannot afford to wait—we have to act now. The same is true of early childhood development in Vermont—it is no longer a case of whether or not we can afford to make these strategic investments in the early years….we cannot afford not to make them. We must act now or we will pay dearly later. We know that the investment we make during the earliest years of life (from birth to age five) will provide a much greater return than any dollars we invest later.

One difference between climate change and early childhood

While the work Vermont is doing on climate change is extremely important and we SHOULD be a leader in addressing this issue, the effects of climate change are largely influenced by the actions of other states and other countries. The environmental and economic impacts of climate change pose global challenges. With early childhood development in Vermont, we have full control of our destiny. By following the science, making smart, strategic investments in the early years and acting swiftly, we will improve outcomes for all our children and create a healthier Vermont.

Building stronger communities

While on the surface we may seem like different organizations, both the VCRD and the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children are working toward the same end: building stronger, more sustainable, Vermont communities. The success of both organizations relies on bringing great ideas to the table, pulling together the right people and organizations and developing collaborations and partnerships to turn “Ideas to Action.”

 

Comparison Table between Climate Change and Child Care

Click on the image to download a PDF file.

Education Begins at Birth

Many of you have heard me talk about the brain science and the latest research that tells us how crucial the first five years of a child’s life are. So why when we talk about education, do we tend to think about the public education system, K through 12?

It tells me that we still have much work to do to educate Vermonters that education does indeed begin at birth and that those professionals teaching our youngest children are doing very important work —which brings me to the reason for this blog post.

Recognizing the Work of Our Children’s First Teachers

Permanent_Fund_EEOYaward_250I’m excited to announce nominations are open for the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children second Early Educator of the Year Award. Through this award, we are proud to recognize the unsung heroes—the childcare professionals—who work so hard for our children. After all, besides parents, these individuals are a child’s first teacher. This award honors individuals who have truly gone above and beyond to positively impact the lives of children and has been a valuable resource for families.

The top two finalists will be honored at the October 2016 VAEYC Conference, where the top finalist will be announced as the Early Educator of the Year and will receive $5,000 and all expenses paid to attend the VAEYC Conference as well as one national conference. The second finalist will receive a $1,000 award and all expenses paid to attend the VAEYC Conference.

Early Educator of the Year nomination

Early Educator of the Year Eligibility

In the second year of this award, we are accepting nominations for an outstanding center- or school-based childcare professional who has demonstrated a commitment to quality early childhood education. The award alternates between honoring home-based and center-based programs each year.

To be eligible for this year’s award, a center- or school based childcare professional must have at least four stars in the Vermont STep Ahead Recognition System (STARS). Nominees must also have been providing care for at least three years, and must currently have infants and toddlers enrolled in their program.

Award Nomination and Review Process

Individuals may self-nominate or can be nominated by others, though family members may not submit a nomination. The nomination period is now open but will close on May 1, 2016. Those nominated will be notified and must complete and submit an application to the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children by May 31, 2016 to be considered for the award.

An award selection committee comprised of leaders in early education and child development will review all award applications and choose two finalists. Committee members are:

  • Laurel Bongiorno (Champlain College);
  • Mitch Golub (Vermont Achievement Center);
  • Bethany Hale (Vermont Association for the Education of Young Children);
  • Reeva Murphy (Child Development Division);
  • Melissa Riegel-Garrett (Agency of Education); and
  • A representative from Building Bright Futures.

Nominate an Early Educator Today!

We hope that you—parents, folks from the early childhood community and others—will take time to consider the childcare professionals you know. Is there someone that stands out from the rest and truly exemplifies excellence in the teaching of young children? Nominate someone today!

Early Educator of the Year nomination

Earning a Greater Return on Our Educational Investment

PreK_children2_mixed-largeIn Vermont we have seen education costs rise, while our student population has decreased by 23,000 students since 1997. The steepest increase in costs has been for special education. Outside of teacher salaries and benefits, special education costs represent a lion’s share of our school budgets.

Vermont’s Agency of Education reports that while the share of federal funding for special education stagnated between fiscal years 2001 and 2014, Vermont’s share of costs have more than doubled from $137,789,654 to $271,185,794.

Nationally, we know it costs about twice as much to educate a student who requires special education services versus a student who does not. I believe we can reduce these costs while improving outcomes for all children.

Start earlier: Learning begins at birth
infant-adult-handAm I suggesting we cut special education? Absolutely not! Special education programs serve our most vulnerable children. But we do have an opportunity to make these services far more effective.

By identifying at-risk children earlier and starting services earlier, we have the greatest opportunity to improve outcomes for these children and the potential to reduce costs over the long-term.

Here’s why: From birth to age five, a child’s brain is developing most rapidly, making connections and building a foundation for skills that will serve them for a lifetime. If we miss these most receptive stages of development, a child may find it more difficult to learn particular skills later. The greatest return on any investment comes in these early years when the brain is most ready to learn.

Here are a few Vermont stats to put this in perspective:

  • Only 26% of Vermont children age 0 to 3 receive all three recommended developmental screenings by age three. We can change that.
  • 20,000 young children spend a portion of their day outside their home in the care of someone else. And, only 24.1% of Vermont’s regulated care and education programs are designated as high-quality programs (a 4- or 5-level rating in STARS or national accreditation). We must build quality into the early care and education system.
  • In 2013-14, less than half (49%) of Vermont children were deemed ready for kindergarten in all areas of health and development. High-quality early care and education programs will ensure that more of our children are ready to learn.

A recent North Carolina study suggests that state-supported high-quality early childhood programs can reduce special education costs and reduce the number of special ed placements, providing great cost savings to school districts. In the study, an investment of $1,100 per child (made during the early years) reduced third grade students’ odds of needing special education placement by 39%.

While early intervention will not eliminate the need for special education entirely, studies have shown that starting these services earlier can make a difference. Such services can lessen the need for more intensive, and more costly, services later, or, in some cases, can eliminate the need for special services altogether.

Gaining a greater return on our educational investment

We can tackle the quality and cost challenges by reframing how we define public education. By providing high-quality programs and services starting at birth, during the most crucial years of development, we can ensure that all children receive the support they need to develop a solid foundation for their future cognitive, social and emotional development.

Strong communities and a healthy economy are based on the well-being and health of our children. After all, if we want our children to be productive members of society as adults, we must invest in them while they’re young.