Vermont early educators bill clears Senate hurdle

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Stalwart activism and enthusiasm paid off for members of the AFT-affiliated Vermont Early Educators United this month when a bill that would bring collective bargaining to home-based child care providers won unanimous support from the Senate Education Committee. The committee vote took place on Jan. 7, the opening day of the Legislature, and it marked a huge stride toward professional compensation for Vermont's early childhood educators—a goal that AFT Vermont affiliates have placed at the core of efforts to reclaim the promise of public education.

Baruth Presser and Kay Curtis

The road to this point has not been easy. A collective bargaining bill passed the House in 2011 but stalled in the Senate. Since then, early childhood providers have worked nonstop to secure victory—building grass-roots support from parents and communities, and securing support from both legislative leaders and Gov. Peter Shumlin. These efforts helped secure a 5-0 vote in the Senate Education Committee and set the stage for full approval this year by the Legislature and the governor's signature.

Vermont early childhood educators are leaving nothing to chance. On Jan. 24, providers from across the state are coming to the statehouse in Montpelier, where they will meet with lawmakers and the Shumlin administration.

"We're hoping to get it heard in Appropriations and then to the floor by the end of January," says Heather Riemer, campaign director at AFT Vermont. She credits the bill's new life in 2014 to effective labor action on related issues in prior years: greater professional input on state regulations, for example, and the first base pay rate increase in 10 years for registered providers. Passage of the collective bargaining bill, she said, will allow home-based providers to form a union and negotiate with the state over reimbursement rates. It will be a major step toward stabilizing the workforce—turnover rates stand at 40 percent, with many home-based child care providers financially squeezed out of the field—and making it a truly viable career choice for talented professionals.

Without doubt, recent developments in the Legislature are generating even greater enthusiasm among providers in the state.

"What always pumps me up is that we can see just how many providers out there want the same as all of us," educator Judy Trombley posted on the Vermont Early Educators United Facebook page. "The power is so great in numbers. And that is what we need to see this through." [Mike Rose/photo by Amy Shollenberger]

January 14, 2014