Aly Richards is CEO of the Permanent Fund for Vermont's Children.
Healthy children. Happy parents. A positive work culture. Engaged, productive and loyal employees who feel valued and supported to do their very best work. These are just a few of the many reasons the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children chooses to offer paid family leave. We believe offering paid family leave is not only good for young children and their families — it’s good for Vermont overall.
Research documents that paid family and medical leave has health benefits for children and parents, and also benefits employers via increased worker productivity and employee retention. But before getting into statistics, let’s consider how paid family leave impacted the life of one Vermonter — our director of innovation, Molly.
Molly is a hard-working, highly valued employee. She’s the kind of passionate, talented and dedicated professional that a mission-driven organization like ours relies upon to get things done. Molly loves her job, and it shows. The same can be said of her husband, Tom, who works fulltime at a nonprofit promoting a healthy environment. The couple shares a lifetime professional commitment to improving Vermont communities.
Molly and Tom also share another passion: family. They were already raising a 2-year-old and working hard to cover expenses when the couple discovered Molly was pregnant with twins. They considered the option of one parent dropping out of the workforce to take care of the children, but realized that would mean sacrificing income needed to support a growing family. For one of them, it would also have meant giving up valued work and falling behind in a career that took decades to build.
The Permanent Fund’s family leave policy made it possible for Molly to take the time she needed at home to bond with her newborn twins without sacrificing income or leaving a career she loved. Molly was able to take 12 weeks of fully paid leave and a second 12 weeks with 40 percent salary coverage. In addition, the Permanent Fund offers employees an annual childcare scholarship of $2,500 per child, capping at $5,000.
When Molly returned to work, she was ready to dive back in with renewed commitment and enthusiasm. She continues to be a highly productive and engaged employee.
Molly’s story is just one example of how family-friendly work policies aren’t just good for employees — they’re also good for employers. In our case, 100 percent of parents who have taken leave have returned to work at the Permanent Fund, saving us costs in recruiting and training, as well as productivity lost during additional position vacancy.
We all agree that parents need to be able to care for and bond with newborn children, but the reality is that more than 70 percent of Vermont children under age 6 live in households with all of their parents in the workforce. Because they can’t access paid family leave, too many of these families are forced to choose between their natural desire to provide their children the best start in life and their ability to keep a good job and make ends meet. This problem is exacerbated by Vermont’s shortage of high-quality, affordable child care.
A study on the feasibility of a family and medical leave insurance program in Vermont, released last month by the Vermont Commission on Women, found that the implementation of a paid leave program could save Vermont more than $500,000 annually (as much as $270,000 from reduced public assistance among working women with a recent child birth in addition to almost $280,000 from health care savings due to an increased number of Vermont’s newborn infants who are healthy and have normal birthweights).
We need to ensure we have systems in place that allow Vermonters to balance work and family rather than forcing parents to choose between them. Access to paid family and medical leave, coupled with access to high-quality, affordable child care when parents return to work, would boost Vermont’s economy by attracting more young talented people to the state and encouraging young families to stay here, which ultimately helps attract new businesses and helps our current small business community thrive.
Aly Richards is CEO of the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children.
Click to read this commentary in the Rutland Herald, VT Digger or Vermont Business Magazine.
Will Patten is a retired Ben & Jerry’s executive and former executive director of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility.
On Feb. 1 I attended a meeting of Vermont business leaders to discuss the importance of early childhood education. Gov. Phil Scott came to address the group and received a spontaneous and enthusiastic standing ovation. Not because he had cut business taxes or gutted regulations, but because a few days earlier he had proposed bold ideas for improving Vermont’s education system. No one appreciates the importance of the education and training of Vermonters more than the people who employ them.
During his brief talk, the governor mused that, were we to have an opportunity to design an ideal education system from scratch, it was unlikely to look anything like what we have today. I’ve done some musing myself on that subject and that’s why I’m writing this. Some of the assumptions that underlie our school system are seriously out of date.
The first is that children should be nurtured and protected in the home (read: mothers) for the first four years of life. We now know that the young brain is hungry for stimulation and exploration and that 90 percent of a young brain’s development will take place before the age of 5. Unfortunately, too many young Vermonters today find themselves parked in unstimulating child care situations during those early years.
A second out-of-date assumption is that school exists to transfer knowledge: the laws of math, science, grammar; the accepted masterpieces of literature and art; the established narrative of our past. That function was long ago outsourced to Google and the product of good schooling today is a curious and critical thinker.
Third is the unchallenged assumption that all kids needed the summer off so they can help with chores on the farm. For way too many adolescents and teens, summers are spent in unsupervised and unproductive environments playing video games like Grand Theft Auto.
Most of the governor’s proposals had already been rejected by the Legislature by the time he spoke to us and he closed by saying that if we cannot agree on the implementation, we should all be able to support the goals of investing in pre-K and post K-12 education. (Another standing ovation.)
The remainder of the meeting was an open discussion of how Vermont can build the education system we need. There was consensus that a continuum of learning, from “Cradle to Career,” that was also affordable, would be a strong magnet to attract young millennial families to Vermont.
With typical business acumen, several people suggested that if we cannot reallocate any of the current $1.6 billion education budget then it would make sense to integrate expanded early childhood learning programs into the existing K-12 budget and structure. If, with declining K-12 enrollments, we have excess tax-exempt facilities and ever-increasing personnel costs, why can’t we leverage those resources to provide our 0- to 5-year-old Vermonters with the stimulation they need and crave?
Vermont Business Roundtable’s recent study, Vermont’s Early Care and Learning Dividend, demonstrates that investment in early childhood learning yields a return on investment of three to one. For this taxpayer, businessperson and voter, that is very compelling. Let’s figure out how to make it happen.
Click here to read this article on VT Digger.org.
Emerson Lynn is the editor and co-publisher of the St. Albans Messenger.
Critics say taxpayers will not see a reduction in their property taxes under Gov. Phil Scott’s proposal to change how Vermont funds its educational system.
Paul Cillo, founder of the Public Assets Institute, says: “If schools make the cuts the governor has asked for, Vermont homeowners won’t see lower taxes. Instead, school budget savings will be used to cover new obligations the governor wants to pay for out of the education funding pot.”
It’s an “Oh My God” moment in Montpelier.
So, for Mr. Cillo as his ilk, the answer is to perpetuate the inertia that exists, to not deviate, to spend as we have, even acknowledging that our preK-12 educational system is experiencing a severe decline in student population?
The governor’s proposal was never offered as an immediate way to lower people’s property taxes. But it’s also common sense that property taxes will be less likely to rise if we don’t spend more. Right? And if future school budgets are linked to student population levels, then it follows that those schools in decline will reflect that decline in reduced spending. Right?
Doesn’t that work toward a stable property tax rate?
But even this near-term view, misses the larger point. What Mr. Scott is saying is that we can no longer look at education as something that happens between kindergarten and the 12th grade. It’s an early childhood through college, or a “cradle to career” process. What he’s saying is that the money is already there, it’s already being spent, it just needs to be distributed differently and in a way that reflects today’s educational needs, and the needs of tomorrow’s workforce.
It’s estimated that in the time period between the mid-1990s and the year 2030 Vermont’s student population will drop by 40,000 students, which means, roughly, that we will be educating about 35 percent fewer students than we did at our peak. We’ve already lost more than half that number and our student count is dropping by roughly a thousand students each year.
To say that’s a troubling statistic is an understatement of considerable proportions. Not only does it mean we can’t afford to spend more to educate fewer, it means we have to do a better job with those in the “cradle to career” system. The progressive part of the governor’s plan is that the savings from the preK-12 system would be plowed back in to early childhood and higher ed spending.
Although Vermont does an exemplary job with its preK-12 system, it does not do well with early childhood education, and it fails utterly with its support of higher education. That begs the question: Is our educational system really hitting on all cylinders if we fail to reach our children early, when they are most able to learn, and when their working parents need help the most? And are we truly doing well, when we have almost half our high school students not furthering their education much beyond their senior year?
No, we are not.
Not only is the governor’s plan fiscally prudent, it pushes an essential conversation forward. And it does it in a way that has the potential to remake Vermont’s educational system into something that could be the envy of all others.
It’s important to remember that there is an advantage to being the high spending state we are. And there is an advantage in having a student- teacher ratio that is half the national average. And there is a huge advantage in being a state that prides itself in the quality of its educational system.
We don’t have to remake ourselves. We don’t have to change our value system. We don’t have to shock the citizenry into spending more. But we do have to widen our view as to what a complete education system looks like. And we have to be open to things being done differently, and more efficiently. Instead of retreating into the shells of past behavior and insisting that change is the enemy, we need to generate the enthusiasm that comes from figuring out how we can do considerably better within the resources that are already available.
As Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe has already explained, Vermont has a “size problem.” We have too many schools that are too small to educate their students adequately. That also means that within the system there is the space and there is the manpower [at a high quality level] to consider options for early child care needs.
We also know that our higher ed community is a major economic development force and the stronger it is, and the more Vermont students it educates, the better the chances those students will remain in Vermont, helping, hopefully, to reverse the state’s population decline.
When these trends are understood, and when our considerable resources are seen for what they are, then it makes no sense to restrict the conversation in Montpelier to a debate over whether the taxpayers will really see their property taxes drop next year.
That sells us short.
by Emerson Lynn
Click here to visit the St. Albans Messenger website.