Forums Highlights Childcare Shortage
02/12/02 12:00AM By Steve Zind
(Host) The three announced candidates for governor appeared together for the first time Monday.
As VPR¿s Steve Zind reports, Republicans James Douglas and Cornelius Hogan joined Democrat Douglas Racine to tackle childcare and early education issues.
(Zind) Julie Cadwallader-Staub is director of the Child Care Fund of Vermont, which sponsored the forum. She says the challenge facing childcare in Vermont is three fold:
(Cadwallader-Staub) ¿We¿re talking about quality, availability and affordability¿. The way things are now, high quality childcare is extremely hard to find. If you¿re lucky enough to find it, it¿s extremely hard to afford.¿
(Zind) The candidates agree with Cadwallader-Staub on Vermont¿s childcare problems. In fact, they agreed on just about all the points made during the discussion. Each says that as governor, he would make improving childcare a top priority. They also agree that making childcare better and more affordable will cost the state money. Cornelius Hogan says first, there has to be greater public recognition of the importance of childcare:
(Hogan) ¿We have to, in a major league, public education way, get people in Vermont to understand how important these services are and be willing to pay for it, incrementally improved over time.¿
(Zind) As for where the money to make those improvements will come from, Racine says once the economy improves more funds should be devoted to child care programs. Douglas, like Hogan, says he¿d find money by cutting excesses in the budget.
(Douglas) ¿Well I think it¿s entirely appropriate to look at those parts of the budget where Vermont is out of line either on the high side or the low side.¿
(Zind) The candidates oppose dedicating tax revenues from the lottery or so-called ¿sin taxes¿ to child care improvements. They agree that childcare providers need better pay and benefits. Racine says strengthening the parental leave law is also an important side of the childcare discussion:
(Racine) ¿A lot of us having been trying and I hope we will continue to try until we¿re successful to get paid family leave in the state of Vermont. I think we ought to have it nationally. We¿re way behind other western countries.¿
(Zind) About 250 people attended the forum. Barbara Burrington is head teacher at the University of Vermont¿s employee-based daycare center. Burrington says she didn¿t think the candidate¿s comments reflected the urgency of the childcare situation in Vermont:
(Burrington) ¿All of the gubernatorial candidates were well-spoken, well-intentioned, bright. But because we are with children and families every day, we didn¿t get the sense of immediacy that this is really a big problem in Vermont, that there aren¿t quality childcare slots. Even at UVM, we can barely begin to meet the need.¿
(Zind) Linda Johnson is a visiting teacher from Stockholm, Sweden. Johnson says quality childcare is guaranteed in her country. And it¿s paid for by the government:
(Johnson) ¿We have to provide childcare for all the children. The government has to. There must be a place for all one year olds. And we also have maternity leave for 18 months, paid for! So it¿s very different.¿
(Zind) Johnson says to pay for childcare and other government programs, Swedes are taxed at 30-50% percent of their income. That¿s one suggestion none of the candidates endorsed at Monday¿s forum.
For Vermont Public Radio, I¿m Steve Zind in Burlington.