Mayor’s Office

Mayor Weinberger, Community Leaders Announce Launch of the Burlington Early Learning Initiative's First Steps Scholarship Program


February 27, 2019

Contact:  Olivia LaVecchia
                  (802) 734-0617


Mayor Weinberger, Community Leaders Announce Launch of the Burlington Early Learning Initiative’s First Steps Scholarship Program

The scholarship program will be accepting applications from March 1 to April 5 for Fall 2019 enrollment, marking a new program of this innovative City initiative to expand high-quality childcare opportunities for Burlington children.


Burlington, VT – Mayor Miro Weinberger today announced that on March 1, the City of Burlington will open the application process for the Burlington Early Learning Initiative’s “First Steps Scholarship Program,” which is designed to place 20 or more low-income Burlington children into high-quality child care in its pilot year. Mayor Weinberger was joined in the announcement by City Councilor Jane Knodell, City Councilor Dave Hartnett, Greater Burlington YMCA CEO Kyle Dodson, Let’s Grow Kids Interim CEO Janet McLaughlin, and Family Room Executive Director Josh Miller.


“I am proud to announce the launch of the ELI First Steps Scholarship Program, which will give more of our youngest Burlingtonians a more equal start in life, and strengthen the system for all parents, children, and childcare providers,” said Mayor Miro Weinberger. “Expanding access to high-quality childcare – without increasing the City’s operating costs – is one of the best investments we can make to reduce future public spending and ensure that Burlington is a city where every child has the opportunity to succeed.”


The ELI First Steps Scholarship Program builds off of the past work of the Burlington Early Learning Initiative (ELI), including a first two rounds of capacity grants that the City awarded to childcare providers in 2018, which directly support the creation of 62 new spaces that have begun coming online. While the capacity grant component of ELI helps create new high-quality childcare spots in Burlington, the ELI First Steps Scholarship Program will focus on connecting children from low-income families with that care and new capacity. The City has developed this approach in response to input from a wide range of community stakeholders, and with it, is implementing a multi-pronged approach in order to tackle a many-layered problem.


How the ELI First Steps Scholarship Program Works

The application window for the ELI First Steps Scholarship Program will open on March 1, 2019 and run through April 5, 2019, with one-year scholarships awarded for Fall 2019 enrollment. In the pilot year of the scholarship program, the City’s aim is to provide scholarships for 20 or more Burlington families, focusing on those children born between August 31, 2017 and July 1, 2019. Building on what is learned in the pilot year, the City plans to expand the program in future years.


Who is eligible:

  • Burlington children not currently receiving Child Care Financial Assistance Program (CCFAP) benefits with a family income at or less than 65 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), which equals $59,670 for a family of four.
  • The program will also help enroll those children in CCFAP to secure additional available funding that benefits the child and supports the operations of the childcare program, though children do not have to be eligible for CCFAP funding to apply.


About the scholarship amounts:

  • The City will invest up to $210,000 in the first year of the program, depending on the size and needs of scholarship recipients.
  • The amount of awards will be based on the average cost of high-quality programs surveyed by Let’s Grow Kids in and around Burlington. The scholarship award is thus designed to be set at a level that is closer to the true cost of care.
  • Between the City scholarship and leveraged CCFAP funds, the ELI First Steps Scholarship Program will provide up to $16,900 annually per child, or $325 per week payment rate.
  • The total value of an individual ELI First Steps Scholarship will vary based on different families’ financial circumstance and the number of STARS the childcare center has (4 or 5 STARS), but will provide sufficient funding in combination with CCFAP benefits to enable access to high-quality care for Burlington’s most vulnerable children.
  • Please see the included Appendix A for details on the value of the City scholarship and how it leverages CCFAP funding at different income levels.


How the program will make awards:

  • If more than 20 children apply and meet these criteria, awardees would be selected on a lottery basis. This is the most equitable way to distribute scholarships, and it follows local precedent: Until 2016, the Burlington School District used a lottery system to apportion 3 – 5-year old early education slots.
  • If fewer than 20 children apply, the remaining slots would be apportioned on a first come, first-serve basis. Scholarship recipients must be Burlington residents, but to ensure that families are able to access care that meets their needs, scholarships can be used outside of Burlington at any qualifying high-quality program that meets the pilot criteria and enters into an agreement with the City.


The program design has benefited substantially from the input of many community stakeholders, including representatives from the Burlington School District, the UVM Medical Center, Head Start, the Vermont Community Loan Foundation, and many childcare providers.


Evaluation, Potential Future Expansion, and Value of the Investment

The ELI capacity grants and ELI First Steps Scholarship Program will be rigorously evaluated over time. The program aspires to become a model for investments in early learning that result in measurable benefits that convince other funders to participate in affecting long-lasting changes. The City has worked with Let’s Grow Kids and other community partners to design the evaluation effort and criteria.


Based on the results of the pilot year and the evaluation process, the City intends to leverage significant additional funding from other private, institutional, and public sources to provide scholarships for high-quality early care to young children living in poverty to expand the impact and public returns of the ELI effort. A 2017 study facilitated by the Vermont Business Roundtable found that every dollar invested to expand Vermont’s high-quality early care and learning programs will yield a return of $3.08 (view the full report at: Other studies across the country put the return even higher per dollar invested. These returns are generated by healthier children and healthier families better able to learn and contribute to our community.


Background on the Burlington Early Learning Initiative

Mayor Weinberger began the Burlington Early Learning Initiative in February 2015 with a community-oriented design process to expand high-quality childcare for Burlington children from birth to age three. Based on that design work, the Mayor and City Council committed $500,000 of existing revenue to support the ELI in the City’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget, which continued with the FY2019 budget.  After a competitive process, in July 2018, the City awarded capacity grants to childcare providers in order to support the creation of new high-quality childcare spaces in Burlington, and 62 new spaces directly supported by those grants have begun coming online. The City plans to award a second year of capacity grants in coming months.


Through this innovative municipal initiative, the City aims to address the opportunity gap faced by low-income children across the country and also here in Burlington. Research has consistently shown the benefits of investments in early childhood education to address this gap, and lead to improvements in a wide range of social, economic, health, and education-related outcomes. However, there are many barriers to the access and affordability of high-quality care, one of which is simply that there are not enough spaces available. The City’s research has shown that though about 350 children are born in Burlington each year, fewer than 200 childcare spaces are available for children from birth through age three.


As access to and affordability of high-quality childhood education has been identified as a critical issue nationwide, cities around the country have been grappling with how to develop potential solutions. The Burlington Early Learning Initiative is among leaders nationally in its focus on infants and toddlers, and aims to address the particularly severe shortage of high-quality and affordable early care and learning spaces for children from birth through age three.


The long-term goal of the program is to ensure that all Burlington children have the opportunity to succeed regardless of family income level.


For additional information about the ELI First Steps Scholarship Program, please see the following:


Community Leaders Share Responses to the Launch of the ELI First Steps Scholarship Program

“I'm proud to be here today as part of the launch of Burlington's Early Learning Initiative Scholarship Program,” said City Councilor Jane Knodell, Central District. “We in city government have taken the time to listen to Burlington's early childhood education providers and others to craft a program designed for Burlington's families struggling to find and afford high-quality early education for their young children. Closing the achievement gap in education starts with early childhood, and may be the single most important strategy available to local government for building a local economy that works for everyone.”


“I am glad to see the scholarship program beginning – it will help strengthen Burlington families, our schools, and our community,” said City Councilor Dave Hartnett, Ward 4. “All of us want to do what is best for our children, and this program makes it possible for many families in our community to find and afford high-quality child care. This is important work, and I am also pleased that the program does not add to the burden on the City’s taxpayers.”


"The Early Learning Initiative's capacity grant provided important funding to help the Y conclude our capital campaign and start construction on a new facility.  Our new home will include expanded, dedicated space for early learning, allowing us to provide care for 50 additional infants/toddlers, which is the age range where the community's supply shortage is most acute" said Greater Burlington YMCA President and CEO Kyle Dodson. "I am grateful for that support, and am pleased to see the City following through on its commitment to begin a scholarship program focused on the community's most vulnerable children. I look forward to partnering on this effort in the years to come."


“The Burlington Early Learning Initiative is an important local example of the work Let’s Grow Kids is engaged in across the state with our Make Way for Kids program which provides grant funding and coaching to help child care providers offer high-quality child care to more children in their local communities,” said Let’s Grow Kids Interim CEO Janet McLaughlin. “Let’s Grow Kids is excited to partner with the City of Burlington as we work toward our mission to ensure all Vermont families have affordable access to high-quality child care by 2025. We commend the Mayor for showing leadership on this issue and finding local resources to support Burlington children with better access to high-quality early care and learning that will set them up for future success.”


"The Family Room recognizes the importance of high-quality child care for parents and is excited to see this as a priority for the City,” said Josh Miller, Executive Director of the JSM Family Room. “We look forward to working together to help connect the families who need it most with these new scholarships."


“The underfunding of the early care and education system is a national issue that impacts quality, access and affordability,” said Sarah Adams-Kollitz, Executive Director of the Burlington Children’s Space. “It is tempting to turn away from this issue and allow families to struggle to find and afford care on their own. The Burlington Children’s Space applauds the Mayor’s office’s efforts to engage in the process of understanding how this issue impacts many aspects of livability and financial security for all residents. We are seeing the first steps in the city’s efforts to increase funding and capacity, with a focus on our community’s youngest and most vulnerable citizens. We look forward to continuing to work with the Mayor’s office to narrow the achievement gap and make Burlington a great place to raise a family.” 


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