Vermont Business Magazine The City of Burlington will be funding a new Early Learning Initiative (ELI) focused on Burlington children from birth to age 3. Beginning in Fiscal Year 2018, the City will invest $500,000 annually in capacity grants to Burlington childcare programs that provide high-quality care to low income children and commit to increasing the number of slots available for children ages 0–3. Mayor Miro Weinberger made the announcement Thursday afternoon, along with Vermont Agency of Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe, City Councilor Dave Hartnett, Vermont Business Roundtable President Lisa Ventriss, Dr Steve Leffler, Chief Medical Officer at UVM Medical Center and Chief Population Health and Quality Officer at UVM Health Network, Permanent Fund CEO Aly Richards, and YMCA President and CEO Kyle Dodson.
“We are a nation founded on the belief that all people are created equal,” said Mayor Miro Weinberger. “To do our part to make good on that principle, we must strive to be a city in which every child has an opportunity to succeed, regardless of the means of their parents. The Early Learning Initiative is a step toward this vision of Burlington. By investing in our youngest children today, we will reap a better educated, healthier, and more just tomorrow.”
“We want all our Vermont children—no matter who they are or where they live or where they were born—to grow up strong, smart, kind, and healthy,” said Vermont Agency of Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe. “Making this happen is something we do together. Not all parents and no one agency or municipality can do it alone. However, when we work together, shoulder-to-shoulder, to push for our goals, our combined and cumulative efforts make the difference we want for our communities. This Burlington initiative is an inspiring step forward for the state.”
Initiative to include evaluation, leverage of non-City funds, and goal of expanded opportunity
Burlington’s new ELI is part of a national and state movement to expand investment in children before they enter kindergarten. New early childhood investment is a major priority of Governor Phil Scott, as it was for Governor Peter Shumlin, President Barack Obama, and mayors across the country.
Features of Burlington’s ELI include:
- The program will seek to address the fact that low-income Burlington children are disproportionately likely to be unready for school, experience a widening achievement gap as they age in the public school system, and are more likely to experience a range of negative outcomes later in life, including reduced educational achievements, higher rates of chronic health problems, higher rates of incarceration and drug misuse, and lower lifetime earnings.
- ELI will support the good work that many childcare programs are already doing by providing a stable funding source that can be drawn on to increase the total number of high-quality child care slots available within Burlington. The City’s research in prior years documented less than 200 slots available for children ages 0-3, with about 350 Burlington babies born every year.
- The City will fund this effort on an ongoing basis using PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) funds. These funds have long been targeted for youth education efforts, but under Vermont’s statewide education funding laws can no longer be paid directly to the Burlington schools. A recent study released by the Vermont Business Roundtable found that every dollar invested to expand Vermont’s high-quality early care and learning programs will yield a return of $3.08 (STORY HERE; view the full report at vtroundtable.org/vbr-foundation-releases-report-vermonts-early-care-learning-dividend-2-6-17/). Other studies across the country put the return even higher per dollar invested. These returns are generated by healthier children and healthier families better able to learn and contribute to our community.
- Following City Council approval of the Mayor’s proposal, the City will create a working group that will include key community partners to refine the program’s grant guidelines.
- The ELI will be rigorously evaluated over time. The program aspires to become a model for investments in early learning that result in measurable economic, health-related, social, and educational benefits that convince other funders to participate in affecting long-lasting changes. The City intends to work with the University of Vermont Medical Center, the nationally-recognized Sorenson Impact Center at the University of Utah, and other community partners to design and implement the evaluation effort.
- In future years the City will attempt to leverage significant additional funding from other private, institutional, and public sources to provide scholarships for high quality early care to young children living in poverty to expand the impact and public returns of the ELI effort.
- The long-term goal of the program is to ensure that all Burlington children have the opportunity to succeed regardless of family income level.
Broad coalition of community partners supports the Burlington ELI
“Investing in early childhood is one of the smartest investments we can choose to make as a society,” said Vermont Business Roundtable President Lisa Ventriss. “High-quality, affordable early care and learning programs serve as an economic driver, by ensuring that parents can continue to work.”
"Early childhood and family support was one of the most pressing needs identified by the community in our most recent Community Health Needs Assessment," said Dr. Stephen Leffler, Chief Medical Officer at UVM Medical Center and recently named Chief Population Health and Quality Officer at UVM Health Network. "We view this early learning initiative spearheaded by the City of Burlington as an excellent opportunity for us to come together with our community partners to invest in the future health of our most vulnerable children by giving them a boost early in their lives."
“The Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children believes the wellbeing of our families, communities, and economy depends upon giving all of our children a strong start,” said Permanent Fund CEO Aly Richards. “For most of Vermont’s young children, high-quality, affordable child care plays a critical role in early development. Mayor Weinberger’s focus on helping children 0-3 from low-income families’ access high-quality early care and learning experiences will help alleviate Chittenden County’s child care challenge. Almost 80 percent of infants likely to need care in Chittenden County don’t have access to high-quality early care and learning programs, and statewide 85 percent of infants don’t have access to high-quality programs. Meanwhile, families lucky enough to find a program are spending up to 40 percent of their income on child care.”
“The benefits of investing in enriching environments for young children and their families are well known,” said Burlington City Council President Jane Knodell. “I am hopeful that this program will allow us to sustain programs located in low- and moderate-income communities, where they can be most easily accessed by families and children who have very limited options.”
“This new Early Learning Initiative is an opportunity for us to put our money where our mouth is and to be proactive in helping our community’s children,” said Kyle Dodson, President and CEO of the Greater Burlington YMCA. “The Y is committed to this collaborative approach, and we’re excited to work with the City and our Early Childhood colleagues to use this new program to reach and serve more children. As a former Principal of an early childhood / elementary school in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, I’ve seen evidence of how ELI will help our children become healthier and better educated, and will provide them greater access to opportunity.”
“We have to close the achievement gap among our children, and this is an important step in that direction that does not require any new taxpayer dollars,” said City Councilor Dave Hartnett. “I am pleased to see the community come together in this way, and urge my fellow Councilors to support this effort.”
The creation of a new Burlington ELI has been years in the making, following the goal announced by Mayor Weinberger in February of 2015. At that time, the Mayor announced an effort to design an ELI pilot in partnership with the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children, the State Department of Health, the Burlington School District (BSD), and the Visiting Nurse Association (VNA). The support of the Permanent Fund, in the form of a $122,000 grant, was crucial to allow for extensive work on the program design and to define a program that could be implemented effectively within Burlington. This effort was captured in the “Burlington Early Learning Initiative Draft Action Plan” written by Jessica Nordhaus of Gear Shift Consulting (attached).
That work, building on the success of other communities like Minneapolis, MN, developed a scholarship model that would provide scholarships to specific students to help defray the cost of high-quality child care. Such a model remains the ultimate goal of the Burlington ELI – but in order to demonstrate the value of such investments, the City is first seeking to expand the available high-quality child care slots by providing grants to Burlington early care and learning programs and rigorously tracking the results of this investment.
The Mayor has also been heavily influenced in his understanding of the cognitive and social skill challenges faced by low-income children by the writings of Paul Tough, a journalist who has written extensively on early childhood education. In 2015, the Mayors Book Group hosted a community discussion of Tough’s book “Whatever It Takes.” Research in recent years, including in a White Paper on “Burlington Beginnings” (attached) has documented clearly that the “achievement gap” faced by low-income children nationwide is a serious problem in Burlington that is visible when kids enter the school system and grows over time. By third grade, only about 50 percent of children eligible for free or reduced lunch are able to read at grade level, while more than 70 percent of their peers not on similar lunch programs have reached that benchmark. By eighth grade, while only 60 percent of the children eligible for free or reduced lunch are reading at grade level, more than 90 percent of their peers not on similar lunch programs have met or surpassed that threshold. These poorer children then graduate at an unusually low rate, earn less as adults, suffer higher rates of incarceration and drug use, and experience a lower life expectancy.
Source: Mayor 5.18.2017