Risk-taking in Early Care and Learning Systems Design

Take Risks. We cannot afford not to. This was one of the many insights that stood out for me from conversations with Dr. Lynette Fraga, executive director of Child Care Aware of America, and Matthew Melmed, executive director of ZERO TO THREE, who visited the Permanent Fund and spoke at the Turrell Fund annual dinner in June. These national experts on early childhood confirmed what we already know at the Permanent Fund: we’re at a “tipping point in early childhood,” where positive, sustainable change is within reach if we stretch ourselves toward a vision for a thriving future Vermont.

These ideas emerged as most relevant to our work:

1) Think Big. “If we design an early care and learning system that addresses our needs today,” warned Dr. Fraga, “we’ll recreate the problems of today.” Instead, “let’s build a system that will work for our future children and families.” This advice is crucial at a moment when Building Bright Futures is launching a statewide process to design our future early care and learning system. As we think together about how to make high-quality, affordable early care and learning accessible to all Vermonters, let’s think beyond our current structures and dilemmas to imagine the best possible future. Let’s create a system that yields returns not only for today’s young children, but for their future families, business and communities.

2) Take Risks. We’ve invested billions in research on early learning outcomes in the U.S., Mr. Melmed explained. But, unlike our European counterparts, we haven’t yet applied that research into policy and practice. Our opportunity is to take what we know—that early care and learning is the most powerful long-term investment our society can make—and figure out how to do it, to capitalize on the potential of our children, now. This is not an easy task and the Permanent Fund’s timeline—high-quality, affordable early care and learning for Vermonters by 2025—requires significant innovation and leaves little room for error. However, Mr. Melmed and Dr. Fraga recommended using an iterative approach to innovation as a way of both taking risks and capturing feedback needed to course correct. Sometimes known as rapid-cycle testing, this approach enables testing solutions, documenting outcomes and adapting strategies quickly in response to emerging needs and findings.

An iterative approach also aligns well with the Permanent Fund’s strategy. That’s why we’ve built a highly productive, entrepreneurial organization that adapts quickly and yields top-of-line results. Our plan, in addition to building a movement of early childhood supporters and building lasting systems to support high-quality, affordable early care and learning, focuses on piloting new strategies for positive impact to ensure that our future system is as innovative and responsive as it must be so that Vermont children and families thrive in the decades to come.

3) Keep it up. Perhaps the most rewarding feedback from our visiting national experts was their recognition that our work is on the cutting edge of national early childhood efforts. Vermont is the ideal laboratory for scalable social change, Dr. Fraga and Mr. Melmed confirmed. “Many other places in the country don’t have the capacity for change or the ability to break down silos that you do here in Vermont,” Dr. Fraga pointed out. Vermont is small—only 6,000 babies born to Vermonters each year. Our strategy is focused—we’ve zeroed in on an ambitious but achievable goal of high-quality, affordable early care and learning for all Vermonters by 2025. Our forward-thinking political climate has achieved a history of doing things first. We are, in effect, “solution-sized” and poised to lead the nation on what scientists, economists, educators and politicians agree will yield the highest return on investment for our future: early care and education.

So, let’s do it! Let’s stick our necks out to achieve a big vision with even bigger rewards for children and families. Let’s solve an issue plaguing the nation by getting it right for Vermonters. How? Together. Here are just a few of the ways I hope you’ll consider jumping in:

I’m looking forward to making history together!

Best,

Aly

What does child care have to do with Vermont’s economy?

A new study, led by neuroscientists at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and Columbia University Medical Center, has shown that family income and parental education affect child and adolescent brain development. The study highlights that too many children are well-behind their peers in cognitive, social and emotional development by the time they reach the age of three. Having a significant segment of our young population not getting off to a strong start has serious budgetary and economic implications for Vermont.
 
The Permanent Fund is now focusing on the following four messages related to strengthening the Vermont economy:
 
1. Pay now or pay later. 
Health and human services-related costs have been far outpacing the rise in inflation and the growth of our economy. Special education costs alone have risen from approximately $150 million to $300 million in the last 20 years largely due to increased behavioral issues linked to social-emotional development, while general student enrollment was decreasing. Sound research has shown that high-quality early care and learning reduces the need for special education services. A recent study out of Duke University found that an investment of $1,100 per child in high-quality early care and education reduced children’s odds of needing special education by 39% in third grade.  This smart investment would allow us to save significantly on a wide variety of costs which are putting a tremendous strain on our state’s budget year after year.
 
2. Making Vermont the best place in the nation in which to raise a family is a savvy economic development strategy. 
Over the past 20 years, Vermont births have been steadily declining and enrollment in K-12 has decreased by 18,000 students. These are troubling statistics as we need more, not fewer, young people entering the state’s workforce and contributing to a strong economy. A system of high-quality, affordable child care will create a favorable environment for parents to have children and, as important, for those children to thrive. Chambers of Commerce tell us that when small businesses and young families are considering a move to Vermont, the top three questions they ask are related to the quality of our education system, the affordability of housing and access to high-quality, affordable child care.
 
3. Since our children will become the engine that drives the economy, we cannot afford to give up on any of them.
We know that 90% of the core development of a child’s brain occurs by the age of five and that, by far, the highest return on investment in education is in the very early years. When children show up at kindergarten prepared for school they have a chance to have success in school, continue on to higher education and contribute to a skilled workforce. We are at a point now in Vermont when we must pay attention to the research and invest our available funds where they will produce the highest returns.
 
4. Access to high-quality, affordable child care contributes to workforce development. 
We can’t be our best at work if we’re worried about who is going to care for our children. Vermont businesses’ ability to recruit and retain productive employees is greatly enhanced when parents in the workforce have access to high-quality, affordable child care.
 
In addition to the public awareness efforts of Let’s Grow Kids and the systems-building work of Vermont Birth to Five, here are two areas of innovation where we will focus in 2017:
 
1. The early childhood professional as a key member of the population health care team.
By recognizing that child care providers can play a critical role in the health of children and even their families, we make it possible to both streamline services and cut down on health care costs down the road. For more on the connection between high-quality child care and cost effective approaches to health care, go to: http://www.permanentfund.org/healthcare-integration/.
 
Alan Guttmacher, recent director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), has joined the Permanent Fund team and will assist Aly Richards, our CEO, in forwarding this effort. With his extensive experience in pediatric research and commitment to improving health outcomes for children and families, we are so lucky to have Alan working with us on this important initiative.
 
2. The Shared Services model as a way to make child care more cost effective. 
Vermont, as a small, rural state with small and widely-dispersed child care programs, is challenged to take advantage of the cost-efficiencies associated with larger child care centers. A Shared Services Network is a community-based partnership comprised of child care programs working together to share services such as bookkeeping, billing and collections, purchasing, insurance, access to nurses, mental health consultants and substitutes.
 
Our focus on a statewide systems change presents quite different challenges than investing individually in good programs and requires a determined patience. At the same time, our short, now 8-year, timeframe creates a sense of urgency for the Permanent Fund team and all associated with this movement. We would not have begun to accomplish what we have without the enduring commitment of our supporters and now, more than ever, we appreciate that continued support.
 
There is a noticeable buzz and increase in momentum in the child care movement from where we were a year ago. Aly will keep you up to date on the details of Permanent Fund progress as we work toward our goal of all Vermont children having access to high-quality, affordable early care and learning by the year 2025.

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.

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