“How do we make childcare more affordable and accessible?” asked Shelly Weeks, a parent of young children who also works as a referral specialist for the Family Center of Washington County.
Weeks’ question summarized the challenges facing families and childcare workers presented at a monthly meeting, held virtually on Jan. 18 by the Washington County Action Group. The meeting, organized by Let’s Grow Kids, a statewide nonprofit, focused on improving both access to and affordability of childcare for young families.
The critical issues about preschool childcare include the lack of availability for many families, the high cost for such care, and the chronically low wages paid to childcare workers, even those with high-level training in the field, explained discussion moderator Mackenzie Hakey, a field organizer for Let’s Grow Kids.
Earlier last week, the Rand Corporation released a study of Vermont’s childcare resources outlining how they can be improved — and what those improvements are likely to cost. The report, and in particular the costs it projects, received immediate attention from legislators and the media. The projected cost in the Rand study ranges from $179 million to $279 million depending upon the options selected.
Let’s Grow Kids CEO Aly Richards explained in a press release: “In the weeks to come, we are counting on lawmakers and our governor to advance and support legislation that provides a comprehensive and equitable solution to the childcare crisis. The solution must include ongoing and long-term public investment to ensure: Every child who needs it has access to quality childcare; families spend no more than 10 percent of their income on childcare; and early childhood educators are fairly compensated.”
The legislature is currently working on a new bill, An Act Related to the Financing of Child Care. “Will the cost be defined in the legislation?” asked Tim Flynn, a grandfather of four pre-school–age children concerned about the difficulty young families face in finding and affording childcare. ”It will be helpful to know what is, or is not, included in the bill,” Flynn said.
Hakey assured the group that Let’s Grow Kids will hold an informational session when the contents of the bill are available. Caitlin Patterson, a mother currently seeking childcare, asked what she can do to support action from the legislature.
The Let’s Grow Kids Action Network does provide a resource list of what people can do, including a strategy for bringing concerns to the attention of their legislators, Hakey said. A major rally is planned at the Statehouse on April 12.
The next virtual meeting of the Let’s Grow Kids Washington County Action Group will be Feb. 15. In a follow-up message to attendees, Hakey provided links to additional information and additional events planned by Let’s Grow Kids. For more information, visit letsgrowkids.org.
—J. Gregory Gerdel
Reps. Casey and McCann Introduce Bill for a 24/7 Public Restroom in Montpelier
On Jan. 10, “H.34, an act relating to studying the feasibility of a state-owned public restroom near the Capitol Complex,” was introduced in the Vermont House of Representatives and referred to the Committee on Corrections and Institutions. The bill would require the Department of Buildings and General Services to conduct a feasibility study on constructing a state-owned and operated restroom near the capitol complex on State Street.
“As the state capital, Montpelier is host to thousands of visitors every year. Having our visitor center open 40 hours a week is wholly insufficient to accommodate their needs,” said Rep. Conor Casey. “This has been a concern since 2009, when the state closed four highway rest areas.”
A new restroom would also provide much needed services to the region’s population experiencing homelessness. “The pandemic has left hundreds of Vermonters unhoused,” said Rep. Kate McCann. “With the hotel voucher program no longer an option for many, the state has an obligation to provide this basic need.”
The city of Montpelier recently allocated $425,000 for a warming shelter in addition to funding a homelessness liaison position through Washington County Mental Health. “It’s time for the state to step up and share this responsibility,” said Ken Russell, chair of the Montpelier Homelessness Task Force. “The state capital should be a model for communities across the state.” A copy of the bill can be found at legislature.vermont.gov/Documents/2024/Docs/BILLS/H-0034/H-0034%20As%20Introduced.pdf —press release
Bridgeside Books Valentine’s Scavenger Hunt
“Not Your Average Date Night,” a Bridgeside Books After Dark event, returns for the second year on Saturday, Feb. 11 from 6 to 8 p.m. This Valentine’s Day favorite invites couples, friends, and other pairs into the bookstore on a scavenger hunt inspired by their relationship and the books around them.
The pairs are encouraged to split up and follow a list of prompts, such as “Find a book that describes your partner” or “Find a title that sparks a shared memory.” Once they join back together at their private table, couples share in their selections.
Tickets are available in store and online at Bridgesidebooks.com; ticket includes event access for two and refreshments. For more info go to bridgesidebooks.com/?q=h.calevents. —press release
Singing Valentine for Your Sweetie
The women of the Barre-Tones a cappella barbershop chorus are accepting orders for your Valentine message to be delivered in four-part harmony to a special friend or family member on Feb. 14. Your message can be delivered either in person or by telephone. In-person deliveries include a package of Birnn Chocolate Truffles and a beribboned scroll with your personal message. Telephoned deliveries will include your personal message read to your recipient followed by an appropriate song selection. In-person deliveries of singing Valentines are available in greater central Vermont, including Washington and Chittenden counties, on Tuesday, Feb. 14, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The Barre-Tones is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and requests $40 per delivery for in-person messages and $20 for telephoned messages. For additional information, questions, and an order form, go to BarretonesVT.com or call 802-552-3489.