Author’s note: This story was originally printed by VTDigger .
Efforts at child care reform have been greeted with ambivalence by some providers who are concerned the changes are too steep.
New regulations for child care providers, written by the Child Development Division within the state’s Department for Children and Families, are scheduled to go into effect Sept 1. They spell out more specifically what is required.
“It is definitely more words, but sometimes it takes more words to be clear,” said Reeva Murphy, deputy DCF commissioner.
The new regulations were based upon extensive national research and discussions that began in 2012, she said.
However, as child care professionals begin to navigate the changing field in order to comply, some feel the new regulations do more harm than good.
The new requirements have distressed child care providers such as Tracy Patnoe.
Patnoe, who has been a provider for 17 years, has a facility in Morrisville with five classrooms, five full-time teachers and 39 children, she said.
Old regulations from 2001 required full-time teachers working alone in a classroom to have an associate degree in child development or a minimum of 12 college credits in early childhood development.
The new regulations will increase these requirements, Patnoe said. Each staffer will be required, at minimum, to have either completed 21 college credits in early education or obtained an associate degree in a related field, a childhood apprenticeship certificate or a child care certificate from Community College of Vermont.
Her five teachers, some in child care for more than 20 years, would be deemed unqualified to teach. They would have to go back to school, or Patnoe would have to hire new professionals, she said.
Murphy, of DCF, said these guidelines are for entry-level teachers. The hope was that as the teacher’s professional development grew, so would their level of qualification.
There are incentives to gain these qualifications, Murphy said. Scholarships are available through colleges and the state that help those in child care gain more qualifications and ensure high-quality care.
Patnoe also pointed to new regulations require 24 months of experience in child care in order to work at a center, describing it as a Catch-22 making it difficult for those who want to start a career.
The new rules would cost her organization more than $40,000 a year because the hourly rate for each teacher would increase $2, Patnoe said. That does not include payroll costs or health insurance, she said.
Patnoe said she will need to find funding to either provide education for her staff to meet the qualifications or hire new staffers — at a higher rate — who meet the requirements.
“Where is this money going to come from? It will fall on the backs of parents who are already paying more than they can,” said Patnoe. She owns Mud City Kids Childcare in Morrisville.
The high cost of child care is one of the reasons given for creating the regulations. On average, a Vermont parent spends 28 to 40 percent of earnings on child care, according to the advocacy campaign Let’s Grow Kids.
Robyn Freedner-Maguire, campaign director for Let’s Grow Kids, said that although the regulations have prompted essential conversation, they also place financial burdens on child care providers. She said more money is needed from the state.
“We need more than regulations,” she said. “We need investments.”
The regulations are the first in more than a decade for center-based child care and in more than two decades for home-based child care. They are part of a larger statewide discussion on how to improve the child care system.
Campaigns such as Let’s Grow Kids have rallied lawmakers, parents and providers to speak about sustainable changes. In addition, a blue ribbon commission formed in 2015 has been conducting qualitative and quantitative research on achieving high-quality affordable child care in Vermont.
The commission will make a recommendation on the next steps in November.