by Mary Burns
Vermont’s early education centers, after-school programs and home child care providers dedicate their work to providing high-quality, affordable child care for Vermont families of all incomes and backgrounds. Seventeen child care organizations from throughout Vermont have formed the Early Education for Children Coalition in order to alert the community to a bill under consideration in the Legislature that threatens our ability to continue this service to children and families.
H.97, pending in the House Human Services Committee, would authorize the creation of a statewide union that would represent all early education, after-school program and home child care workers – managers and employees alike. The union would be the sole representative to negotiate with the state, and would receive a portion of child care subsidies from the state.
H.97 creates serious obstacles for the goal of ensuring that all children receive the care they need to become life-long learners and productive, contributing citizens of Vermont. Here’s why:
· The bill would give the state direct power over private child care and early education workers regarding health care, disability, retirement benefits; professional development and training; child-to-staff ratios; and grievance procedures. These are things that private employers should determine based on their unique design and the knowledge that their employees are the backbone of a successful endeavor. These offerings should not be dictated by a statewide public employees’ union agreement that would apply to every private organization offering early education services.
· The Step Ahead Recognition System (STARS) established by the Vermont Department for Children and Families rewards providers with increased subsidy reimbursement rates for completing training courses and implementing other quality improvements. This program incentivizes providers to have the best quality child care possible. H.97 would increase subsidies for all child care providers, regardless of program quality.
· The bill would provide state dollars directly to the union that negotiates with the state (likely the American Federation of Teachers). State money should go directly to children and child care providers to support quality outcomes for children; not to pay union dues.
· Lastly, this bill will have a chilling effect on the charitable giving that supports our early education and after-school programs. Donors give money to support our programs because they want to fund programs that serve children. Donors will likely not want to support costs that are created through statewide collective bargaining. Those of us who are private charitable organizations could not maintain our services without charitable contributions.
No state has authorized statewide collective bargaining for all child care providers. Many workers have no interest in a new arrangement. At a time when the number of public employees is being reduced and services to vulnerable groups are being cut, the notion of redistributing of resources to force others to bear the cost of a union hardly seems prudent or sustainable.
Every day we strive to provide safe, stimulating places for our children. And every day we see firsthand the challenges facing working families and child care workers. There is a more effective and cost-effective solution to the problems we face in providing quality care for all of Vermont’s kids: the legislature can raise reimbursement rates through the appropriations process. H. 97 is a costly and inefficient way to bring more money to child care centers, and it is likely to harm quality child care, not improve it.
Op-Ed submitted on behalf of the Early Educators for Children Coalition