I am the president of the Vermont State Colleges Faculty Federation and a longtime faculty member at Castleton State College. I am writing to ask you to support S.316, which was passed through the Senate and is now headed to the House.
This legislation will allow early childhood educators to organize if they choose to do so. If they do form a union, they would negotiate with the state about how they get paid for providing child care to low-income families. There are several reasons why you should support this legislation — that, in fact, this legislation has the potential to improve the working conditions for early childhood educators, as well as benefiting low-income families and the state as a whole.
There is a significant need for child care in Vermont. We are actually second only to North Dakota in terms of our need for child care. Eighty-three percent of Vermont families have both parents working, and 76 percent of children under 6 need child care.
Because of the low salary early educators make in Vermont (average annual salary of $19,720), there is a turnover rate of 40 percent in the early education work force. Research has shown the importance of good quality early education for children. Those children who get this education do better than their peers who did not have it, and this is especially true of children from low-income families. As an educator myself I understand the importance of establishing this educational foundation for children.
Early childhood educators also enable low-income parents to work or go to school so that they can improve their economic situation rather than staying on welfare benefits. State-subsidized child care is an investment worth making, and it saves money in the long run.
A study conducted by the National Women’s Law Center estimated that for every dollar the state invests in early education it gets a $7 return on the investment. They also found that union representation of the early education work force results in improved services and more access to early education for low-income families. It is imperative that we support these early educators who serve such an important role for our Vermont children and families.
The National Women’s Law Center also found that union representation of early childhood educators results in better working conditions. Unionized early educators have better and more regular compensation. They have expanded opportunities for professional development.
Early childhood educators, like so many other professions dominated by women, have been devalued and not given the respect they deserve for the very important work they do. These professionals are not baby-sitters; they are educators who are providing young children with the educational foundation necessary for success in later life.
The early childhood educators have been working for the right to organize for almost four years now. I have gotten to know some of these folks over the years, and I have come to respect both the work they do and the commitment they have to the children and families they serve.
Thirteen other states have granted this right to organize to early childhood educators, and it is time Vermont does the same. Please support S.316 and ask your representatives to do the same.
Linda Olson is a professor sociology and women’s and gender studies at Castleton State College.MORE IN Perspective
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