Council Approves Mayor’s Slate of Early Learning Initiative Awards

Competitive City Grants to Expand High-Quality Child Care Opportunities for Low-income Children, Strengthen Burlington Child Care Centers, and Lay Foundation for Future High-Quality Child Care Scholarships for Burlington Youth

Burlington, VT – Mayor Miro Weinberger today announced, and the City Council approved, the recipients of the City’s awards to support the expansion of high-quality childcare in Burlington for children from birth to three years old. These awards are the City’s first step in supporting the growth of high-quality childcare, which has been demonstrated to help prepare children for school, narrow the opportunity gap, improve future health and education outcomes, and reduce future public spending. The Mayor presented the awards at the City Council’s July 16, 2018 meeting.

The largest grants are being given to the capital campaigns of the Sara Holbrook Center ($150,000) and YMCA ($130,000) and will help create 58 new high quality child care slots in Burlington for infants and toddlers. A $75,000 grant to the Burlington Children’s Space will help that organization move a step closer toward purchasing their space and help preserve 29 existing high quality child care slots for children ages 0-5. The City is also funding planning grants that will strengthen four existing child care centers and may lead to future expansion efforts.

“The City of Burlington is committed to becoming a City where every child, no matter their background or family’s income, has an opportunity to succeed,” said Mayor Weinberger. “These grants represent an important step toward realizing this vision of Burlington. With the second year of funding for this new program recently approved by the City Council, we are in position to make further, much-needed progress on this critical issue in the coming months.”

Award Winners

The City received applications totaling more than $640,000 in the application round that closed at the end of May. These application process was reviewed by the City Council’s Community Development and Neighborhood Revitalization (CDNR) Committee in April and June, and the applications were reviewed by a stakeholder advisory grant committee (members listed below) that included Brian Pine, Chair of the CDNR Committee, on June 8. Details regarding these awards are available in the attached appendix.

Awardee Award Amount
Burlington Children’s Space $75,000
Janet S. Munt Family Room $45,000
Full Circle Preschool $5,000
Pine Forest Children’s Center $30,000
Robins Nest Children’s Center $10,275
Sara Holbrook Community Center $150,000
Greater Burlington YMCA $130,000

“The number one way that we can close the achievement gap for children from low-income families is to invest in early childhood education,” said Councilor Brian Pine (Ward 3). “This means that we must support our early learning providers and the programs that build strong foundations for our children. ELI investments will create much needed new child care slots while improving the quality of care for Burlington’s youngest citizens.”

"This grant will help the Y create 50 new infant/toddler seats to address a critical lack of child care facing the Greater Burlington area, the state of Vermont, and the nation as a whole,” said Kyle Dodson, Chief Executive Officer of the GBYMCA. “Thanks to the Permanent Fund’s research, we know that 77 percent of Vermont’s infants and toddlers likely to need care lack access to high-quality child care, and yet it is prohibitively difficult for organizations to bring new seats online because the staffing ratios and other requirements drive costs beyond what most families can afford to pay. At the Y, we believe that every child deserves a strong start in life and we are grateful to the Mayor and the City of Burlington for stepping up to help.”

"The Sara Holbrook Community Center has an 80-year history of providing an array of services to some of Burlington’s most vulnerable children and families, and the timing of the ELI award is most beneficial,” said Leisa Pollander, the Executive Director of the Sara Holbrook Community Center. “The Center has just been awarded a 1:2 challenge grant. For every 2 dollars we raise toward our expansion project, two generous donors will match 1 dollar. So this grant of $150,000 will leverage another $75,000!"

“BCS is very grateful for the investment of the City in early education and especially happy to see it has been directed toward sustainability and investment in longstanding programs that provide wrap around services for families in the community,” said Sarah Adams-Kollitz, Executive Director of BCS. “The ELI grants are the outcome of three years of conversation about the needs of the early education community and the need for public investment in the City’s youngest citizens and their families. We appreciate the effort that has gone into understanding the struggles programs like BCS face operating in a chronically underfunded system. BCS will be able to use the funding to help purchase our building and move toward a more stable financial future. We look forward to continuing to work with the City and VB5 on future investments, especially those that help increase wages for staff.”

“Vermont families are struggling to find and afford quality child care. For more than a decade, Vermont Birth to Five has been working alongside early care and learning providers across the state helping them meet the needs of young children and families in their local communities,” said Janet McLaughlin, Executive Director of VB5. “We understand that even though it’s rewarding and critically important work, child care can be a tough business to sustain in a system that has been chronically underfunded. That’s why we are so encouraged by Mayor Weinberger’s leadership supporting new investment in high-quality child care to help close the opportunity gap and ensure all children have an equal chance to succeed. We need everyone at the table to help create a sustainable early care and learning system that meets the needs of Vermont’s children, families, businesses and economy—because we all depend on it.”

Extensive Public Engagement, Review by Grant Committee Led to Strong Slate

The City’s FY 2018 budget included $500,000 to launch the Burlington Early Learning Initiative. Following approval of this budget in June of 2017, representatives of CEDO, the Mayor’s Office, the Innovation & Technology Department, and Vermont Birth to Five (VB5, a division of the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children that won a competitive RFP to be the City’s early learning consultant and grant administrator) developed a grant application process for capacity grants for Burlington child care institutions. Many partners, including the Burlington School District, the University of Vermont Medical Center, and the United Way of Northwest Vermont, provided constructive feedback on the process.

After receiving only one application in the first round, the Mayor, City representatives, and VB5 conducted additional outreach, meeting with different centers and further refining the grant program. The City Council’s CDNR Committee also provided valuable feedback in April and June 2018. Based on this feedback and the Mayor’s suggestions, the application process was altered to extend the timeline for capital investments, expand the allowable uses of grant funds to include one-time planning grants focused on enabling sustainable expansion, and raising the maximum scholarship award level from $50,000 to $150,000.

The changes were effective, and the City received grant funding requests in excess of $500,000 at the application deadline. A Grant Committee reviewed the applications with the clear guidance from the Mayor and the Council’s CDNR committee to prioritize awards that provided the greatest benefit to low-income Burlington children. Members of the Grant Committee included:

  • Jesse Bridges, CEO, United Way of Northwest Vermont
  • Kristin Fontaine, Pediatric Outreach Coordinator, University of Vermont Medical Center
  • Phelan Fretz, Executive Director, ECHO Leahy Center
  • Brian Lowe, Interim Chief Innovation Officer, City of Burlington
  • Sarah Muyskens, Parks Foundation Board Member
  • Jessica Nordhaus, Principal, Gear Shift Consulting, LLC
  • Brian Pine, City Councilor and Chair of the Council’s CDNR Committee
  • Becca Schrader, Business Resource Manager, Vermont Community Loan Fund
  • Beth Truzansky, Chittenden Regional Coordinator, Building Bright Futures

Background and Next Steps

The creation of a new Burlington ELI has been years in the making, following the goal announced by Mayor Weinberger in February of 2015. At that time, the Mayor announced an effort to design an ELI pilot in partnership with the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children, the State Department of Health, the Burlington School District (BSD), and the Visiting Nurse Association (VNA). The support of the Permanent Fund, in the form of a $122,000 grant, was crucial to allow for extensive work on the program design and to define a program that could be implemented effectively within Burlington. The capacity grants build on the work completed during that design phase.

The Mayor has been heavily influenced in his understanding of the cognitive and social skill challenges faced by low-income children by the writings of Paul Tough, a journalist who has written extensively on early childhood education. The Mayors Book Group hosted a community discussion of Tough’s book “Whatever It Takes.” Research in recent years has documented clearly that the opportunity gap faced by low-income children nationwide is a serious problem in Burlington that is visible when kids enter the school system and grows over time. By third grade, only about 50 percent of children eligible for free or reduced lunch are able to read at grade level, while more than 70 percent of their peers not on similar lunch programs have reached that benchmark. By eighth grade, while only 60 percent of the children eligible for free or reduced lunch are reading at grade level, more than 90 percent of their peers not on similar lunch programs have met or surpassed that threshold. These poorer children then graduate at an unusually low rate, earn less as adults, suffer higher rates of incarceration and drug use, and experience a lower life expectancy.

Council’s allocation of $500,000 in Fiscal Year 2018 followed substantial analysis and community feedback that ultimately focused on capacity needs. The Council also approved $500,000 for FY19, and the City’s goal for the coming year is to launch a scholarship program to directly benefit low-income Burlington children (the City may also make some further capacity grants to continue growing and strengthening the childcare community within the City are also possible).


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