The cost of childcare and what to do about it with Aly Richards

00:00:00    Alyssa

You're listening to Voices of Your Village. This is episode 224. The cost of childcare we all know is outrageous, and our Early Childhood educators are making next to nothing. I got to hang out with Aly Richards, the CEO of Let's Grow Kids here in Vermont, who has dedicated her work at LGK to bringing high quality, affordable childcare to every Vermont family. In this episode, we got to dive into the cost of care and what to do about it on a state level. What does this investment look like? How much is it? Where do the funds come from? How do we truly change this system so that every single child has access to high quality care, so that teachers are paid to be teachers, so that we can have the workforce thriving with our childcare system in place? Aly is a wealth of knowledge on this subject, and I am so grateful to get to learn from her. Before we dive in, I wanted to remind you that we have our first ever Seed Virtual Teacher Summit, where we are bringing high quality professional development to you for free. Head on over to to sign up right now. The summit starts on April 10. Register now to join us for free and learn from incredible instructors in the field of Early Ed. All right, y'all, let's dive in. 


00:01:54    Alyssa

Hey there. I'm Alyssa Blask Campbell. I'm a mom with a Master's degree in Early Childhood Education and co-creator of the Collaborative Emotion Processing method. I'm here to walk alongside you through the messy, vulnerable parts of being humans, raising other humans with deep thoughts and actionable tips. Let's dive in together.


00:02:19    Alyssa

Hello, everyone, and welcome back to Voices of Your Village. Today I get to hang out with Aly Richards. Aly is a human that I met real early. When I moved up to Vermont, I had been following the organization she's the CEO of let's Grow Kids and had actually come up and gone to an event before we even lived in Vermont because I was really jazzed about the work they did. I had a shirt, I had the whole thing. And then we moved up to Vermont, and I was like, I need to get connected with Aly and meet her in real life. Aly has drawn on her extensive experience in state and national politics and her leadership in education policy to spearhead Let's Grow Kids mission. Prior to joining the organization in 2015, Aly served as the deputy chief of staff for Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, where she led several efforts to support Early Childhood education, including winning competitive federal grants totaling $70 million. Thank you, Aly. And supporting the passage of universal pre. K Aly was selected as a 2013 Toll Fellow by the Council of State Governments and as the 2014 Vermont Champion for Education by the New England Secondary School Consortium. She has also served on the 2008 Obama campaign and graduated with honors from Brown University, ever heard of it. Aly currently serves as a trustee of University of Vermont Medical Center and the Vermont Council on Rural Development and was recently named a change maker for children by Save the Children. Aly grew up here in Vermont and lives in Montpelier, our capital, with her husband James and her identical twin boys. Aly, when I met you, you were pregnant with the boys. 


00:03:55    Aly

Oh, yeah. Now they're four!


00:03:57    Alyssa

Yeah. That's wild. It's so wild. We were talking before, but just like time is bonkers when you take in just like parenting time is weird. It's my hardest part of parenting, is time and the concept of it. And then add in, like, COVID and everyone just like, I didn't see you for a hot minute. And then you surface back up with four year old twins. 


00:04:18    Aly

Exactly. I know. How does it happen? Everyone prepares you for it and you can be ready intellectually, but until you live it with a child marking time, you just can't get it. It's wild. And then you add the COVID time work and you're talking. It's really wild. 


00:04:33    Alyssa

Super nuts. Allie, what drew you to this work in Early Ed ? 


00:04:40    Aly

I love the question. Thank you for the conversation, generally, Alyssa, and having me on. It was amazing to meet you. And I was just so excited years ago with my pregnant state to meet someone like you who was coming into Vermont with world class talent and passion and energy. Honestly, that's what makes Vermont such a special place, and it's what makes me so excited to be able to change the world here. And that's exactly what I feel drew me to this work. I mean, basically, I was always at every turn since I was a kid trying to say, okay, how can one person leverage, impact, do something that affects the most amount of lives in a positive way? And obviously there's judgment calls there, but the idea is, what can reasonably you do to just make life better for people? And it sort of led me to policy as having kind of like a lever to have large impact over just sort of improving the lives of folks. And then I was working for Governor Peter Shumlin, and I was doing special projects for him and every special project, so sort of any policy field came back to kids. You get it more than anyone. Skyrocketing costs in what? Health care, mental health, education. Why did you go upstream? Have you done the exercise? Right. To see why are the kids falling into the river in the first place? Right. And then demographic crisis in a small place like Vermont, rural place like Vermont. Others are seeing this across this country, too. We have an aging population. How do we turn that around? Oh, I don't know. Support young families with kids? Pretty much every place we looked, it just went back to supporting the healthy development of our children. And so childcare high quality early child education. Zero to Five became my project for the Governor, and then that project kind of became my life. I moved over to Let's Grow Kids because I saw an opportunity to focus all of my energy and pursuits towards this very innovative, very creative. What is this opportunity before us? To actually know where children are, understand their healthy development, and wrap them with infrastructure and policy that really understands and supports that. So it's been an incredible, honestly journey to be sitting here with you sort of on the cusp of serious policy changes in Vermont is very exciting. But that's what drew me to the work. And I again, talk about you can understand something intellectually, right. Everyone tells you you're going to have kids. Careful time is going to start flying even faster. Right. But you don't really get it until you have them. Intellectually this was my life, and then I had identical twins. So it's like living it at every aspect, professionally, personally, and I wouldn't do anything else. Honestly. 


00:07:33    Alyssa

I love it. Going upstream is my favorite thing to do, Aly and I love that you brought it up because I think so much of the challenge here is kind of getting out of our own way and stepping back and looking from that bird's eye view like what is happening? And so much of it does funnel into other things you mentioned, like we have an aging population here, or we know that specifically moms have left the workforce in droves since COVID. And looking at why and why are Early Childhood educators not going back to schools since COVID? And really taking that bird's eye view, I think is so key to not putting a Band Aid on a bullet hole. Said it before 7000 times. I'm not a Band Aid on a bullet hole person. I think it's a waste of our time. I think it's a waste of our money. I think it's a waste of our energy. And I always want to go upstream, and that can be really hard to do when we're like, well, this is the way we've always done it. 


00:08:30    Aly



00:08:31    Alyssa

And it takes that innovative thought and perspective, which is what you've been working on at LGK. 


00:08:37    Aly

I love to just sit on that for a second because you're completely right. I think what the pandemic showed us actually was twofold on this work. One, it showed us if you really want it wasn't just the virus, it was all the social sort of upheaval we saw in this last three years. I think we learned a collective lesson. The time for Band Aids is over. It's systemic change. It's these root causes that you need to understand and identify, or you're not going to have a prayer at fixing any of the things that really ail us that we truly care about. But then you have to think about, so why don't we do this? It's like how can we come together in crisis and do our most innovative work right? Can we build that muscle outside of the crisis moment to actually have this real systemic change? And there's factors working against us, and one is a one year budget cycle, right, in these short political cycles. And so I think a lot of what you're saying is, right, we have to do this. Why is it so hard? I think it's so hard because it requires some courage, some focus, some focus energy until you actually get the outcome done instead of, okay, what's the flavor of the month now? And it often requires investment. And we just don't have a big history, especially in this country, of having the courage to move dollars around, even if they are the most sensible. Right? Like, it's like we can prove this every which way. The child development lens, the economic return on investment lens, it's just the smart thing to do, and it's the right thing to do. Right. You so rarely have an opportunity to do something like that. This is it. This is why the Fed, the chairman of the Fed, chairwoman now the Fed too, they've said for years, you want to know what the best investment is? I'm about to blow your socks off. It's zero to five. We just don't get that investment elsewhere. So why not? So if we have the blueprint, we know it's, right? Why not? And often it's because we just haven't dug deep enough to move money around, even though we know it's very risk free. In fact, it's going to pay for itself. 


00:10:34    Alyssa

That's just it. It is an investment upfront. It's an investment, though, right? 


00:10:40    Aly

It's not an expense, it's an investment. 


00:10:41    Alyssa

Correct. Yes. And I think we've got to really view it that way. And we talk about this in so many aspects, with teachers, with parents, with families. Like the investment of, you know what? I'm going to invest five minutes into my self care today so that I have more to pull from so many ways that we look at investments in raising these tiny humans. And I'm wondering, as you're so deep in this, and specifically in policy, when you're looking at what does it look like to invest in high quality childcare? And I've told you before, I believe in access and I believe in affordability, and I'm here to fight with you. But my biggest focus is in the high quality part and making sure that as we're investing, we're not losing quality, that we're not just putting bodies in a classroom, we're putting bodies in a classroom, who are trained to be there, who have the support ongoing to be there, et cetera. And so what does it look like to invest in high quality childcare? 


00:11:43    Aly

It has to be I just have to say, we all have to double our resolve to fight for that quality, Alyssa, because it will be the first to go. If people take their cold, hard, capitalist pens to this. You can just say, well, let's just put more bodies in. No. For a million reasons. Because you can't go backwards. You can't have unintended consequences. But even worse, you can't build something in the wrong form, especially when we know better. We have science and research and data on this one like you've never seen before. And so we absolutely know what to do. And look, it can be self interested too, because if you do not invest in quality, you do not get the return on investment inextricably Linked again. It's a gift. This issue is a gift, right? It is bipartisan. It is our kids. It is our future economic stability, right? It's become a joke. I spend a lot of my time traveling the States. The best part of what I get to do here, talking to Vermonters to just really know what is the problem, what is the solution? Do they fit together properly in a Vermont context? And it's almost become a joke. Everyone says, well, that's nice that someone's focused on child care. It's not my thing, but I'm glad you're doing it. It's like, wait a minute, sit down, please. Tell me what you care about. We can explain why childcare is your thing. Back to that upstream, right? All roads lead back. So what does it look like to invest in high quality? It goes back to the brain science. And you are one of the best purveyors of this, right? Like, you take this, like, 50 year plus, you know, chronicle of of best practice and research, and you apply it in a way that people can understand and access. And that's why I love it. As a mom, I thank you. I'm a big fan and follower here. And so it goes back to why. So a healthy development of a child between zero and five, right? You're building off of that healthy development over a lifetime. And we often say, right, it's read and write arithmetic. Yes, but it's so much more than that. It's literally your ability to be a healthy human the rest of your life. Everything from chronic illness to healthy relationships propensity for against addictive behaviors, right? This is resiliency. It's everything. You're literally just packing it with good stuff or not that you build off of the rest of your life by the time you hit five. And that's like a very exciting, big opportunity. It's also kind of like a scary, heartbreaking concept when we think about, like, okay, well, how are we helping our kids then at this most crucial time? And so if you do not give them what research shows is quality in this most crucial time, we pay for it over their lifetime, both in real dollars and in heartbreak. You know what I mean? It's so much, so much simpler. And we know what to do to give these kids a healthy start. And then the question is, okay, well, they're just not at home anymore. That's a fact. We get into this sometimes of saying, well, where is the right place for a child to be at this time? 


00:14:37    Aly

We can debate that. There's lots of different ways to look at that. But the truth of the matter is, in Vermont, like the rest of this country, seven out of ten kids have all available parents in the workforce, so they are not at home. And then the question is, where are they? And how can we wrap them with everything we know that they need? And so that's what investing in quality looks like. It starts with the human in the room. Like any industry, as you well know, like any common sense thing. Who's the human in the room? Are they supported to do their best work, to be them their best selves, and to have best practice when they care for what they're doing. In this case, the nurturing education of our next generation. And I would say there's no debate on that research. Right? I mean, you know it well, too. It's clear. A certain level of prep, ongoing professional development, understanding of the fundamentals of child development and some professional respect and compensation. That's what makes the world go around. Same here. 


00:15:32    Alyssa

Yeah. Oh, it's so huge. The last school that I worked at, it was a really resource rich school, it  was attached to a University and well invested in. And every head teacher had a master's in Early Childhood. I was teaching infant toddler at the time, and our starting pay reflected our masters in Early Childhood. And what was really, really rad about working there was that I got to see the possibility, right, like the potential of what is when we invest in kids. And I had taught at other programs. I've been a director of a program that didn't have the resources that this program had at its fingertips. And what I saw was like, oh, wow, the things that we got to work on, the ways that we got to be a resource for families when they're looking for tools and support in raising these tiny humans. It was vastly different than the things that we were focused on when I was surrounded by teachers who were not invested in and what that meant in the quality of care that we were able to provide, that these kids received. And then as they left us, what did they leave going to kindergarten with? We're forming 90% of their brain in those first five years. What are we forming? What are those foundations? And how do we take that and not just like, hand them off and be like, good luck public school or private good luck K-12 in navigating whatever we weren't able to fill in because we weren't invested in enough. Right. It's not that we don't have phenomenal teachers, it's that they're not being a compensated and well resourced. And I feel like we can't talk about quality without bringing those things into play. And not just for the record UPK, because we know we're forming 80% of that brain development by the time they're three. So if we're focused on three and four year olds, we're missing a huge opportunity. I had one year where I had, I was in infant/toddler, and I had passed my kids along at the end of the school year to the next teacher. And she had all my kids, and then she had three new kids come in from the outside. And she came to me about two weeks into the school year, and she was like, thank you. And I was like, for what? And she was like, Your kids have tools that these new kids coming in don't have. And really, it wasn't just like, oh, wow, toot my own horn, it's because I was invested in because I was well resourced and able to lay that foundation to pass these kids off as 18 month olds going on two with a whole toolbox that other kids coming in didn't have. And I think we don't understand how much is possible so young if we pour into them. 


00:18:20    Aly

I think you bring up such there's so many good points there. First of all, pre-K versus childcare, it's semantics, right? You don't turn a switch on or off. It's high quality Early Childhood education. We know what that is. It's play based, it's nurturing, it's stimulating, it's curious. It's driven by the child. It's nature. In a lot of ways, we know what it is. And that's what breaks my heart, is that we know what our children need, and we know how to create an infrastructure to do it, starting with the workforce of Early Educators and their preparation and support. And we haven't done it. So even since I've been at Let's Grow Kids, an entire generation of children in Vermont have not gotten what we know that they need. We have not delivered for them. And it's like that just makes you scratch your head. If we have a pothole, we fix it, even if it wasn't in the transportation budget. We're talking about our most precious and important resource, our humans, starting when they are developing at this crucial stage, and we know what they need and we've not delivered. At some point, it's sort of a matter of responsibility for us to do what we know is right. And then that brings me to what I think, what you just said sort of is making me think, what are we fixing here? What exactly are we fixing? It's the broken business model, and you just described it perfectly. So if we know what we need, like, why aren't we doing it? Right? Money. Explain that more. Right. Okay. So why is the business model of zero to five broken? Because we have never funded it or understood it as infrastructure that benefits all of us and that the private market cannot solve on its own because why? Who are the payers? Families who are paying more than they can afford today, and Early Educators who cut corners on their own salaries and the quality that they know they can't cut corners on because there's no money in the system. That is literally all we're fixing for. It's not rocket science. So if you think about, then a zero to five space, we know what we need, and it starts with a well compensated and prepared workforce. So you build the true cost of that care and education, you understand what that per pupil cost is, and then you only charge parents as much as they can actually afford, right today. So let me just say, you probably know this, but for your viewers out there in Vermont, your listeners I'll say, I love a good podcast, by the way. It's very exciting to be with you on a podcast. So in Vermont, access, affordability, and quality. Like, what is the lay of the land today. Three out of five kids who need some form of out of home early child education, zero to five do not have access to it today, three out of five, that was even before COVID hit. That's. 8700 kids in Vermont, and remember, our numbers are small. We have 625,000 people in our state. We have 5000 babies born a year, right? These numbers are manageable. They're solution size, we like to say, right? So think about us as this lab in Vermont with those numbers, okay? 8700 kids in Vermont, even before the pandemic who need care and don't have access to it. That's eyepopping, that should sound eye popping, and it's also solvable. And so if three out of five kids who need it don't have access to it, major crisis, then those who have found it, they feel so lucky, and yet they're paying 30% of their household income on that care. That's more than a mortgage in most cases. So if you do have the chance to find it, it is not affordable for you, then what I'm saying about this business model, right, is those who are doing the work are making $14 an hour without benefits on average in the state of Vermont. Think about that. Think about the incentives. Think about what you just said in your own experience. These are folks who are arguably doing the most important job in our society that we all vastly benefit from over the lifetime of a child's development. And there's a real workforce development immediacy too. If you really need workers in today's economy, well they can't work if they don't have childcare, you know what I mean? So it's that immediate and that long term, and that's what we're solving for. You got to push funding then into the system. We're not saying free, we're saying affordable in a way that you've really reduced the barrier of access, but you're still not ramping up the cost so astronomically we can't handle it. So it's a responsible evolutionary step where we fund an infrastructure by filling this gap, allowing parents to pay less, and allowing Early Educators to get the compensation and benefits they need to do this work equivalent to a kindergarten teacher. It's not out of the world here. It's lining up incentives and forces in a way that makes sense and allows for this sort of, like, self perpetuating cycle of quality and support. 


00:23:00    Alyssa

Yeah, well, and I think it's huge to maintain quality and to raise quality, that if we're just like, man, we got to find care, you're going to end up with bodies. You're going to end up with bodies and not trained, supported educators. And even if there are bodies that want to be trained and supported, there are resources for it. Right. So I 1000% agree with this. And when we're looking at it, if somebody's like, yes, I'm on board, we should invest in it, where does that money come from? 


00:23:30    Aly

Good question. So let me just say first, you're absolutely right. We've actually seen right up north to us in Canada, right? In Quebec, they invested in affordability without investing in quality, and it didn't work. They learned from their mistake. They adjusted to do quality. So we've really adopted, as you can tell, I'm a little biased because I'm a twin mom. But these twin pillars, we call them, and this is best practice in this country again, there's like a community of practice of everyone in every state who's focused on this, and even the national dialogue, it's very validating. It's like, we're not going out on any limbs here. We all have validated the approach, and it is affordable for families and quality, which reality stems from that compensation and support for the workforce. Those are the two, the Early Education workforce. You can't have one without the other. You can't make an investment here and not there. Let's learn from folks mistakes have a much brighter and less costly sort of journey here by understanding that.


00:24:29    Alyssa

Well, it's not an investment, then. Then it does become an expense. If you're not investing in quality, it will not have the same ROI. 


00:24:35    Aly

Exactly. And what's beautiful about what's happened in Vermont here is that the field of Early Educators has led this. Honestly, this should be the punchline. It's just not because of the money, which you asked about, and I will talk about that, but the punchline almost should be something that is historic. I've worked in public policy for a long time. People often do one of the three things, but never two, and never three. And you need all three to be successful. One is the policy change. You need really good policy detail. Two, you need to think about implementation. If you don't think about implementation, the ink will be dry on a bill. You'll think, Mission accomplished. Look silly with a banner behind you, and then nothing will happen. And then, third, I believe, is public will. And public sentiment, public voice. You can be out way out there and look back and no one is behind you. But we've been able to do it at Let's Go Kids, all three of those things, implementation policy and public sort of voice and support. And I think that's what we have, a winning kind of like model that I'd love to see other states adopt, that I'd love to see transition to other sectors that need this deep social change. And a big punchline of this is for over a decade, the field of Early Education has been coming together in Vermont to say, who are we? What do we need? What does research show? What does our experience show? And we're working that with these national experts too, is advancing as a profession. We saw this in nursing around 1950s, right, turn mid century, where nursing literally, I mean, it's so far away and unfathomable now, we forget. But literally, they were considered pillow fluffers. To think about that today is mind boggling. And look at what an important, serious profession nursing is for all of us, right? And just our lives and our health. That's what's happening in Early Child education in Vermont, in this country. And it's being led by those who are most in the know, right? And so basically they're saying, we're Early Educators. This is the profession of Early Childhood education. These are the levels of credentialing necessary based on research, and this is the compensation that we should get. So that just to go down that with you a little bit, like you got to have it, can't miss it, if you do. We just have made a huge mistake that would be hard to recover from. So how do you pay for it? Great question. Right. Like we said in in Vermont, we've been really much like in a linear path here of building this up from the ground up. And we passed a bill in 2021 that basically said it is our intent as a state to do this. We are going to have 10% affordability for families as our goal here. We're going to have compensation and preparation for the Early Education workforce as our second goal here. We're going to put immediate investment to move in this direction with some foundational building blocks, including an IT system for the state that allows for that system, which I know is like the least exciting sentence ever said, but necessary, right, to have this all flow. And then we're going to ask the last two important questions and put studies to get the answers back. How do you govern a system like this in an effective, data driven way? And how do you pay for it? Where does the money come from and how much will it cost? Both of those studies are back. And so in Vermont, never before in history, you actually have all the puzzle pieces on our table. Here's the research here's the public sort of voice. Here is the financing study, the governance study, and here are 117 people that got elected as childcare champions in all statewide and local offices. I mean, that's something that we got to like. Also, the reality of changing a policy, you need your lawmakers. And 117 of them were endorsed by our political arm and truly ran on this issue in a very sophisticated way. So the puzzle pieces are there for us to dig deep and find the money, which is the hardest thing. So the Rand report came out. Rand, which is a nationally reputable group, well known in Vermont, by the way. They've done similar studies that transformed other sectors in Vermont. So third party experts came in and said it's going to cost $179-$279,000,000 a year for an affordable, high quality system. Our goal, by the way, I'm saying now, is lets her kids sort of facilitate a movement. Is that real affordability, real high quality. So we're going straight to that higher number of that range because that's the number that gets us closer to that 10% and that quality. And that's not wild. It's a lot of money, but we've been socializing about a $200-$300 million range for years now in Vermont, and that money could come from a series of places. And what the Rand report basically said was, this is within Vermont's reach. This is how much. And it is not out of our fiscal collective, responsible budget for us to find those dollars. And they gave a series of recommendations. It could be a 0.9% payroll tax, a 2% sales tax, a bundle of other things. And the legislature is right now in the midst of wrestling with these details, figuring out how much, where the money comes from and the policy details underlying that. We've never seen that before. This is the first in the country, by the way, I'll say, of a comprehensive approach to fully doing this and fully funding it. 


00:29:50    Alyssa

That's awesome. When I hear that number, right, like, I grew up in a low income community. My mom was a stay at home mom. I'm one of five kids. She waitressed on weekends to make ends meet, and I'm like, $279,000,000. Aly, are you serious? 


00:30:07    Alyssa

Right? Like, that number, I think, can feel so huge, especially when we're not accustomed to policy numbers and seeing what our general number, what do we invest in other things? And so much of this, I think, for us, it's not front of mind. We aren't seeing those numbers typically. And so when you hear a number like that, at least when I hear a number like that, I'm like, I'd like to throw up my mouth a little bit, right? And I believe in it and I want to invest in it, and I'm just like, holey, is there a secret $279,000,000 hiding somewhere? And so I think for folks who also might be having a similar visceral reaction to the number, can you break down for us, even some comps of, like you said, we have socially been doing socializing $200-$300 million in the past anyway. What does that mean and what does that look like? To kind of wrap our heads around. 


00:30:58    Aly

Your spit take is well founded. Let me just say, we're never going to get this done if we are sugar coating anything or not just going to the hardest, deepest part of this. What we want to do is not just like, sign some bill and get out of town. We are truly here on the ground, committed with urgency to an outcome. And the other thing is, no one wants to throw money into a black hole, right? Like, it has to not just be like, great, we wrote the check. No. Are kids getting what they need in these high quality, supportive environments? Are we seeing the outcomes both economically and academically, right? Socially and emotionally? So let us play with this number. I just want to be clear. It's a ton of money. That's why we haven't done right by our kids today, right? And it is responsible and it is realistic. That's what's amazing about this and where we've come as a community in Vermont on this, like, you got that, years ago, it would have been a ha ha ha, $279,000,000? That's hilarious. Like, see you guys later. Now we're having a very in depth policy debate with people from all parties. That's also what's amazing. And conservative folks from small business owners, from healthcare, folks from parents and grandparents. Why? Is the question. One is let's put the number in context, and then two, let's talk about how it pays for itself and how we can really break that down. So we spend $1.8 billion in Vermont on K-12, $1.8 billion in K-12. 


00:32:28    Alyssa

Wow. Let me just let that sink in. 1.8 billion on K-12.


00:32:34    Aly

So what we're saying is to have the highest quality, most accessible, a spot for every child, zero to five, we need an additional investment of $279 a year. 


00:32:45    Alyssa

Okay, that feels so much better in context Aly. 


00:32:50    Aly

I'm so happy to hear that. And that's the truth of our world, right? It's like we invest in kids, we just magically decide that starts when they're five. But you and I both know that's so wrong. The investment is in many things in our world, honestly, the investment curve is sometimes off or honestly opposite to the ROI curve. And it's our responsibility to fix that. We save money down the road, we do more responsible policy. So the 1.8 billion is the big punchline, but let's continue to dig. We doubled our special education spending in Vermont over the past 15 or so years from one hundred and fifty million dollars to three hundred million dollars, while we lost 30,000 K-12 students in that system. So doubled the spending, lost 30,000 kids from 100 ish thousand kids in the K-12 to 70,000. Just to give you those numbers, right? They're not huge. So why I just want to be so clear before I go down this road with you. Of course we must give kids the services they need, right, at all ages. That's what we're here to promote and discuss. But why you got to dig a little bit and wonder why did it double? When you talk to those on the ground in these schools you mentioned it earlier at the top of the conversation. Behavioral issues. Kids are coming in because they did not get what they needed. Zero to five. And most of the increase in spending in Special Ed, while we had these crazy declines in population of the K-12 world is because kids have these behavioral issues that are incredibly disruptive to learning, incredibly disruptive to the classrooms. And these honestly, professionals and these institutions, these schools, they're not equipped. They are not equipped to deal with it. So we're throwing tons of money at a problem that actually needs to be solved in the zero to five space. 


00:34:42    Alyssa

Go upstream. Go upstream. 


00:34:46    Aly

Why we are spending so much money frantically and the heartbreak pulling the kids out of the river in K-12 when we could just go up and stop them from going in the first place. And that's the truth. Talk to any kindergarten teacher. Talk to anyone in the K-12 space. The zero to five investment is a gift to them and their systems and honestly, to real Ed finance discussions and reform, because we can bring down those costs. They've exponentially skyrocketed. But the doubling of that Special Ed budget almost pays for this whole thing. Just the doubling because we didn't act. And that's one sliver. We also see it in health care, mental health, workforce. My goodness. Have you heard about how much money we spend, for example, on traveling nurses? The budget we spend on traveling nurses because we do not have a workforce in place to fill those spaces. That budget pays for the majority of this. Okay, so these are the numbers in context. Now let's pivot. There's many more we could talk about, but I'll pivot to the ROI. Basically, this has a stimulus like effect on our economy. The investment goes to humans, entirely. Humans, Vermonters who currently are in childcare, who will get a rebate, Vermonters who need childcare and don't have it, but will now all of a sudden have access to it. And Early Educators who are actually lifting an entire workforce of mostly women out of poverty wages today. Poverty wages. So that's the immediate lens, okay? You push this money into the system, it does what like a stimulus does. It lifts the boats. And then think about the ripple effect. The Rand report set up to 2900 Vermonters who have exited the labor force would go back in off the bench. These employers are desperate to hire these Vermonters are desperate to work childcare is the matchmaker. That alone, activating 2900, folks, out of the labor force bench back into the pool. That has a couple hundred million dollars of immediate ROI in the state. So that alone, sliver. One tiny dimensional sliver pays for the whole thing. It increases taxes paid to the state. It increases the number of taxpayers. It has this huge demographic effect that's even hard to calculate. So ROI number one, that has a three to one return on investment is just making the investment and seeing the annual returns to our economy through the workforce lens. Secondary return is over a lifetime of kids, giving them healthy development, mitigating all these costs over their lifetime that we see everywhere. And then the third is this demographics, really. All of our built infrastructure in Vermont is crunching down on us. Quality goes down, and you start getting into these death spirals. It's a race to the bottom. The only way to build that back up is to expand our taxpayer base, is to expand our younger population. And there are very few things that do that. This is one real real thing that does that. 


00:37:47    Alyssa

Yeah, it's huge. You can't move here if you don't have childcare. You can't stay here if you don't have childcare. Right? It's monumental. Yeah. My mom, she went back when my younger brother went to kindergarten, my mom went back to college. My oldest brother went to college at the same time. And, yeah she's nuts. She is incredible. And she went back for education. She has worked in Special Ed most of her adult life then, in her working life, and she now is the director of Special Ed at a school district. And we were chatting about this exact same thing where she had said she's like, Lyss, if you she was looking at the Seed Cert and all that we provide, and it's a lot of Special Ed support happening in Early Ed. How are we teaching kids foundations for regulation? How are we supporting teachers with their mental wellness? And then how are we giving teachers and programs access to the support services they need in Early Childhood at a way lower cost than having support services only really accessible K-12. Unless you have a child who receives services, but you can't just be like, hey, SLP that's in my building, come on down. Let me ask you a question. OT that's in my building that doesn't exist for us. And she was like she was talking about how her job would be a totally different ballgame if all the kids coming into her school K-12 had gone through the Seed Cert, and had these access to all these tools, and if her UPK teachers even had access, like, even getting them access to it. And I just did a workshop last week for educators and through BOCES, there's a system in New York State, and it was on triggering behaviors for us as adults. And there was an OT there who reached out afterward and was like, everything you said is what I do. Like, I'm dealing with all these challenging behaviors. And I was speaking to the root of Early Childhood and how really investing in Early Ed and supporting our workforce with these tools to support our children, to support families, to support our children. Has, everything you just said, I was like, yeah, literally just had these conversations about shifting that Special Ed budget and what that would look like. And I think the challenging pill to swallow, and this is just true anytime we're looking at investment is that your kids getting this access now, we're going to be double paying for a minute, right? Like, the kids who didn't get access, who were in K-12 now will still need those support services for now. But if we're investing in Early Ed , then those kids in just five years time are coming in with more tools. But it is at first that like higher lift if we're paying in both spaces and the acceptance of that, that it's a five year shift. 


00:40:45    Aly

It's just what we started with. What are the barriers for us as a world and policymakers doing the right thing? And one of the barriers is you got to have faith, you got to have focus. And it's not that risky because it is based on data. It's well drawn data. It's well drawn research. Right? It's sort of consensus for all those who are studying this. But that's the thing. We have to start thinking out of the Band Aid mentality and into a sustainability model, right? Like, we can have that year over year. No, we're not willing to double pay. Okay, great. Then we will not be a functional economy in 20 years. I mean, a lot of people are ringing that bell in a place like Vermont, and it's terrifying. If you look at the numbers, it's bone chilling. And this is bipartisan. This governor and the last governor in Vermont, republican, Democrat before are saying, shaking people almost. Are you looking at these demographic numbers? We will not be a sustainable economy. Like, you will not be able to have a real state functioning with a tax base, with jobs opening with sort of like a sustainable future. So it's one of those things where you got to cut the cycle and zero to five. It's just like I often say, it's like we just so rarely have the opportunity that we're not doing this right and that's damaging us. And when we do it right, it holds the keys to the castle, you know what I mean? 


00:42:10    Alyssa



00:42:10    Aly

It puts us on a sustainable path and we just need to be brave enough to double pay for those services while the longitudinal work is happening. But I will say the beauty is it's not risky and it's not going to feel like double payment because you're going to see an immediate benefit in that workforce development. 100% immediate and that will balance out any sort of like you're paying for services for those kids that did not get that early development for a while. 


00:42:37    Alyssa

That's so true. Yeah, you're right. There is that immediate ROI. And you know what? I think what's unique about investing in Early Ed  is you're going to get a financial ROI. I think so rarely is like impact also a good business decision. And this is one of those rare things where the social impact also is a good business decision. 


00:43:01    Aly

Exactly. And that's why I got to tell you, it's been fascinating to work with the business community on this. The business community has showed up in Vermont in a big way in the past couple of years. And they're amazing because what they're saying is small business, large business, this sector, that sector. It's a lot of variety, which is great because it's easy to write off. Well, sure, easy for you to say you own a bank, or easy for you to say you have money or whatever it might be. But we have this amazing, eclectic group of these business leaders, and what they're saying is this is the right thing to do. We don't want you to think we're just thinking about our bottom line. Because, Dang, sometimes it's the right thing to do and you just got to do it. These are our kids. They're saying that, but then they're like and if you want me to explain why it's really good for our bottom line collectively, my bottom line as business. I can do that, too. Let's say it's a payroll tax. I can pay for that in a day. Here's how. I got rid of a shift, because I don't have a stable workforce. If I put that shift back on, that pays for my year of a 0.9% payroll tax. Oh, and by the way, then I pay more taxes as a business, and then the state of Vermont gets more money, and then we all reduce our burden to taxpayers. It's like this virtuous cycle you're clicking into. And I got to say, it comes down to the idea of affordability because it's about the money, because it's about that investment, because it's about making sure you have good digestion. You don't get indigestion when you hear these dollar figures. Right. We have to talk about affordability and what do we mean by that? And this is a debate, and different folks are trying to define it in different ways. Right? There's one definition over here that says, I'm going to throw my body in front of any new taxes or fees because Vermont is not affordable. We got to make sure that we don't make it any less affordable. We just have to focus on affordability. And we're over here talking to thousands of Vermonters, to this movement who are saying, I got news for you, Vermont is not affordable today. I cannot live here. I cannot raise my family here. I cannot run my business here. I cannot grow my business. So what are we going to do about it becomes the question. Not, let's hold on to a status quo that's driving us into the ground in every dimension. Right? And so it's like, how do we cut through this cycle? Investing in childcare is one of those few proactive positive things. Like you say, it's good for kids and it's a great business decision. And no one more than our business community that is making that point for us in these beautiful, demonstrable ways right now. 


00:45:24    Alyssa

Yeah, it's so huge. Aly, I feel like I could chat forever with you about this. We both bring so much passion to the table around it, and I'm so grateful that you're in this fight and that you are fighting for our tiny humans. And I think it's cool that Vermont could be a model across the country for what this looks like. So for folks who are in Vermont, but then also outside of Vermont, can you share more information about Let's Grow Kids? How they can be advocates for this as well, and maybe even turn to look at what is happening in Vermont and how do we look at that as a model in other spaces. 


00:46:05    Aly

Thank you. Thank you for everything you do. By the way, this is the community we're building together around this. It is remarkable and it's really motivating. And thank you for giving me the space to do that, because it is a movement. What we're doing in Vermont is a movement of folks, and it takes something that big to transform a sector. We're working on transforming a sector. We're changing the way we do business. That's hard inertia is a strong thing. So a movement is necessary, right? And so what I'll say is, look, Let's Grow Kids really is facilitating Vermont's childcare campaign from that policy implementation and public perspective. We have over 35,000 people actively engaged Vermont. Don't forget that's 5% of our population, actively engaged from all walks of life saying we demand change and we're going to have a sophisticated conversation about that. And we're going to stick with it till the end. And then here we are with a policy, an actual bill, a vehicle before our General Assembly. It's in the Senate and the Vermont legislature right now, and they are working on it right now that we're all working together to make sure it's the strongest vehicle of transformation that meets our principles we've laid out as a campaign which is affordability for families, high quality with that Early Education compensation right in that crown jewel there, and is truly equitable and truly accessible. So we just keep coming down back to those principles and values as a lens for everything we do to be as transparent as possible and really sort of fulfill the promise of this movement that we're helping to facilitate. So I wanted to say, please check us out, let' If you're interested in being involved, if you're a Vermonter, if you're interested in our model and you've got, like, a really interesting thorny social change problem in another sector. Think about lessons learned from what we've done and the good, the bad and the ugly and accelerate your work by just plugging into what we've done and see what worked and what didn't honestly, we've been at this for over 20 years in different capacities. And then the last thing I would say is there's a moment right now for us to show the strength of this movement and that's on April 12, the Vermont state house lawn on April 12, we are going to show really who we are and what we mean, in solidarity hey, these are our kids. Please do not lose sight of that. We are so close to showing this country what it looks like to invest in our kids and what's going to happen when we do it right. We got to have the best bill and we got to get it over the finish line. And this is our moment on April 12th, 1pm Vermont State House Lawn to just show how multidimensional this is, how cross sector this is. Who cares about this? And we'd all have to be paying attention. So again, You can get involved by just learning more. You can join the campaign. You can endorse the campaign if you're an organization or a business. It's a real movement. It's an honor of a lifetime to be able to be a part of this. Truly, it's amazing to watch the power that humans coming together around a shared goal really can have. 


00:49:04    Alyssa

Thank you. Thank you for leading this movement and carrying us along with you. And I look forward to joining you on April 12th! 


00:49:12    Aly

All right! Another one recruited. I appreciate that. Human by human. I love your tiny human by tiny human. We're going to make this world a brighter place. Thank you, Alyssa for everything. 


00:49:24    Alyssa

Yeah, thank you. 


00:49:27    Alyssa

Thanks for tuning in to Voices of Your Village. Check out the transcript at Did you know that we have a special community over on Instagram hanging out every day with more free content? Come join us at Take a screenshot of you tuning in, share it on the gram and tag to let me know your key takeaway. If you're digging this podcast, make sure to subscribe so you don't miss an episode. We love collaborating with you to raise emotionally intelligent humans.


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