New ARPA grants to provide funds to child care providers in Vermont

By Greta Close | Community News Service

American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) grants will become available to licensed local child care providers in mid-November.

On Friday, October 22, the Vermont Department for Children and Families (DCF) released much anticipated applications for a new set of grants aimed at stabilizing the state’s child care industry.

Having just received details on the grants, local providers are eager to apply for this funding — the intended use: improved teacher compensation.

Unanimously, the most pressing concern identified was the serious staffing shortage facing early childhood education organizations.

“We have a very acute staffing crisis right now in child care,” said Let’s Grow Kids chief policy officer Sarah Kenney.

Child care professionals in The Valley are no stranger to these realities.

“We had a vacancy for a while, and we just didn’t have any applicants to fill our open spot,” said executive director of Waitsfield Children’s Center, Jenny Carlson.

“Getting substitutes is really challenging. So, when we’ve had teachers that have needed to be out, because either their child has a close contact or if they have COVID and can’t come, that’s been a real challenge,” echoed executive director of Spring Hill School, Kira Harris.

DCF recognizes this specific strain on child care professionals and it hopes to address it by providing avenues for increased compensation in the upcoming ARPA grants.

“We have two different options for providers, they can provide reoccurring bonuses for the life of the grant program or they can increase compensation,” said Miranda Gray, interim deputy commissioner of DCF.

Alongside personnel costs, the grants include spending on rent and other expenses, personal protective equipment/cleaning supplies and mental health support for children, families and employees.

Funded by the $29.3 million the state received for child care from ARPA, which was signed into action in March 2021, these grants are targeted to last one year.

Yet to be distributed, appropriate funds will be allotted to applicants based on calculations that factor in the type of care center – whether they are a family child care home or center-based program – and the amount of care they offer over the course of a week.

“Until our early education system works well for families, as employees, then no other industry can thrive because they can’t find employees because their employees can’t find child care,” said Kenney.

The hope is that, with increased teacher compensation, organizations will be able to operate with greater stability – providing consistent access to child care for the families that depend on them.

“Spot bonuses for teachers and wages and things like that is really where I think … we’ll use the funding,” said Harris, who was in the process of applying for an ARPA grant.

While these grants will provide some relief, for some it does not mark a sustainable method of support for the crisis facing early childhood education in the Mad River Valley nor the greater state of Vermont.

“This money will be great, but it’s not sustainable,” said Open Hearth board chair Rebecca Baruzzi.

“These emergency ARPA funds are desperately needed. I think this funding will be a lifeline to help them get through the winter, but we also know that for some programs, the spending won’t be enough to address the current staffing crisis. The bottom line is that this is not a long-term solution,” added Kenney.

Plans to establish a sustainable mode of funding to improve Vermonters’ access to equitable and affordable child care are underway, with goals set by the Vermont Legislature to have the information and revenue options necessary to do so starting in 2023.

The Community News Service is part of the Reporting and Documentary Storytelling Program at the University of Vermont.

Image courtesy of Public domain