Collaborative Progress on Early Childhood Education in 2023
For 21 years, Tammie Hazlett has been centering family, community, and play in the early childhood program she runs out of her home in Thetford, Vermont. In addition to many other advocacy roles she plays, she is also a member of the Vital Communities Early Childhood Initiative’s Advocacy Workgroup. This group is one of the two workgroups in the initiative, and it advocates for policies and investments to support the increase of high-quality, accessible, and affordable early childhood education in the bi-state Upper Valley region.
With 96% of families in the Upper Valley needing childcare to either join or remain part of the workforce1; the cost of licensed childcare for a family with just one infant is equivalent to 16% of the median family income, more than twice of the 7% the federal government considers affordable; and an estimated 800 slots for enrollment in early childcare centers remaining unfilled due to staffing shortages, it is clear the current system is not working. Early childhood educators are not getting lunch breaks, dealing with difficult situations they are not trained for, and getting UTIs when they can’t take a bathroom break without breaching required teacher to child ratios. With all of that in mind, how does Tammie Hazlett make it work to attend the Advocacy Workgroup meetings? She prioritizes providers, families, businesses, and children over her self-care. Tammie is an early childhood education champion. When asked how she has the energy for all she does, she replied “having [my advocacy work cause] change is very rewarding. My energy comes from the reward.”
Providers’ voices in the Vital Communities’ Early Childhood Education Initiative are critical. Dr. Joanne Roberts, the lead consultant for this initiative, says, “Early childhood educators have not had the respect and support they deserve. They are a child’s first teachers beside the child’s parents. The work they do not only impacts a child’s life from birth through five years but also a child’s success in school and the rest of their lives.”
The Vital Communities’ Early Childhood Education Initiative was formed soon after Executive Director, Sarah Jackson, joined the Vital Communities’ team. She had heard a lot about the childcare crisis and how it was exacerbated by COVID-19, especially for women with limited income and women of color. After the topic came up in multiple meetings with community leaders, two groups asked if Vital Communities would hold a forum to bring people together to talk about this crisis. A steering committee was created, and a two-part symposium was held online to highlight the crisis and its possible solutions. In the group of over 200 people who attended, there were childcare providers exclaiming how great it was to be in the same room as business leaders, parents excited to have their voices heard, and business leaders eager to hear what the community needs.
Vital Communities took the momentum from the symposium combined with encouragement from partner organizations and formed the three-year Early Childhood Education Initiative with the goal of increasing the accessibility and affordability of high-quality childcare in the bi-state Upper Valley. Dr. Joanne Roberts, the Initiative’s lead consultant, says the greatest accomplishments of the initiative to date are:
- “Bringing stakeholders together to advocate and support Vermont and New Hampshire early childhood education,”
- “New Hampshire and Vermont [passing] legislation [to] support early childhood education,” and
- “Providing a voice for early childhood educators and families seeking high-quality childcare.”
“Despite these triumphs, there is still a lot of work to be done to support early childhood providers, their centers, and the children and families that they serve”, says Dr. Joanne Roberts. “Because of this, there is great urgency to advocate and support early childhood education in New Hampshire and Vermont.” Our hope is to continue working collaboratively to create more opportunities to fix the early childhood education landscape in the Upper Valley, including improving the compensation for providers, increasing the number of trained providers, decreasing tuition costs for families, and making professional development accessible for providers.
There are many ways you can support the development of a healthy early childhood education system in the Upper Valley:
- Join one of the two workgroups in the Vital Communities’ Early Childhood Initiative
- Thank an early childhood educator for their hard work
- Thank your legislators for recognizing the importance of quality, accessible, and affordable childcare and passing historic legislation in Vermont and New Hampshire
- Stay up to date with what is happening in the world of early childhood education in the Upper Valley and sign up for our listserv and bi-weekly e-news!