Out of the crocodile’s mouth

We must take our early childhood programs from the jaws of bad policy choices

BRATTLEBORO — Recently, members of our Windham County early childhood education community attended “Early Childhood Day” at the state capital to advocate for support for early education programs and initiatives.

The word from our local legislators was that this budget year was “ugly.” We were treated to many versions of the “crocodile mouth” description of the state budget.

The lower jaw of the croc represents the state's revenue growth of 3 percent, and the upper jaw is the climbing rate of spending at 5 percent, resulting in a large gap that must be closed.

This effort to close the gap between revenue and spending has led Governor Peter Shumlin and the House Appropriations Committee to propose significant cuts to essential programs and services. These cuts will have negative impacts on families and children.

Among the cuts is a proposal to freeze the Child Care Financial Assistance Program (CCFAP), which allows working parents to afford high-quality child care. Cuts are also proposed to economic assistance programs for families, programs like Reach Up and Seasonal Fuel Assistance.

These proposed cuts are unwise, as we know that investments in families' education and financial stability create economic strength and lead to increased tax revenues, which will be critical to solving our state's budget challenges.

Most disturbingly, a massive cut has been proposed to Prevent Child Abuse Vermont, the program that provides training and support to early-care providers, parents, and families to prevent child physical and sexual abuse.

In the year following the abuse-related deaths of two very young children in the state, the reduction of proven prevention efforts is shortsighted and will very likely lead to higher costs to the state.

Legislators need to stop focusing on cuts that impact those who have suffered the most financially in the last decade - low- and middle-income families - and instead ask those who have succeeded the most to make a reasonable contribution to help the entire Vermont economy.

According to the Public Assets Institute, even though Vermont's wealthy have managed to amass a higher proportion of the state's total income, they still contribute a smaller share of their income overall to pay for child protection services, schools, roads, and prisons, than do middle- and lower-income Vermonters.

We ask that our legislators work with their colleagues on the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee and support revenue-generating packages that include the examination of tax loopholes and tax breaks for the wealthiest Vermonters.

Revenue generation will reduce the need to make damaging cuts to essential programs for children and families.

Austerity is not the answer. We should not be closing the “crocodile's mouth” by feeding it with our most vulnerable citizens.

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