Mayor Weinberger, Community Partners Announce Pilot Year Progress of the Burlington Early Learning Initiative’s First Steps Scholarship Program and Expanded Program for 2020

February 20, 2020
Contact: Olivia LaVecchia
                (802) 734-0617

Mayor Weinberger, Community Partners Announce Pilot Year Progress of the Burlington Early Learning Initiative’s First Steps Scholarship Program and Expanded Program for 2020

The scholarship program will be accepting applications from March 2 to April 17 for fall 2020 enrollment, continuing the City’s innovative model to expand high-quality child care opportunities for Burlington youth


Burlington, VT – Mayor Miro Weinberger and community partners today announced the progress of the first year of the Burlington Early Learning Initiative’s First Steps Scholarship Program and plans for an expanded year two. In its pilot year, the scholarship program achieved its goal of supporting and placing at least 20 children whose families have low incomes in high-quality child care in the Burlington area. Now, in the program’s second year, the City plans to double the size of the program from 20 to more than 40 children. The second year application period will be open from March 2 to April 17.

“High-quality child care plays a crucial role in preparing our youngest children for school and life.  All Burlington children deserve this kind of care, but today it is out of reach for many,” said Mayor Weinberger. “The expansion of the First Steps Scholarship Program offers hope that in the future we will be a city where all Burlington children get this care and a full opportunity to thrive.”

Mayor Weinberger was joined in the announcement by Let’s Grow Kids CEO Aly Richards, City Councilor Karen Paul (Ward 6), Sara Holbrook Community Center Executive Director Leisa Pollander, City of Burlington Chief Innovation Officer Brian Lowe, and others. City Councilor Brian Pine (Ward 3) and Pine Forest Children's Center Executive Director Christina Goodwin also shared reactions to this announcement in writing below.

Expanding the ELI First Steps Scholarship Program for Fall 2020

The Burlington Early Learning Initiative (ELI) is an innovative municipal program that takes a multi-pronged approach to making child care more affordable and accessible for Burlington families. One prong is the ELI capacity grants, which the City awards to child care providers to support the creation of new spaces, since one of the barriers to child care is that there are not enough spaces available. The second prong is the ELI First Steps Scholarship Program, which the City launched in February 2019 in order to connect children from families with low incomes with child care opportunities. Program recipients receive both a scholarship and a guaranteed spot in a high-quality child care program in the Burlington area.

The pilot year of the ELI First Steps Scholarship Program is now complete, and achieved its goal of placing at least 20 Burlington children in high-quality care. When the City launched the program, it was clear that 2019 would be a pilot year, and that it would seek to learn from the first year to expand the program in future years.

Today, Mayor Weinberger and community partners announced plans to do just that, and more than double the size of the ELI First Steps Scholarship Program. In 2020, the City will seek to grow the program from 20 to more than 40 children. For more information about the cost model for the ELI First Steps Scholarship Program, please see Appendix B.

About the pilot year of the ELI First Steps Scholarship Program:

  • In the first year, 29 families were offered spots, 22 accepted spots and began attending, and two families withdrew from the program in the first five months.
  • Of these 29 families, 18 are single parent households, 12 need child care in order to get or retain a job, and seven speak a language other than English at home.
  • Families are eligible to apply to the program is they do not currently receive Child Care Financial Assistance Program benefits and have 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 costs in the first year are approximately $93,000, and this investment also has leveraged an estimated additional $212,000 in State subsidy.

Like the ELI capacity grants, the ELI First Steps Scholarship Program also helps stabilize high-quality child care providers – thereby not only benefiting families, but also strengthening the entire child care system. The City has designed the ELI First Steps Scholarship Program with input from many partners, including representatives from the Burlington School District, the UVM Medical Center, Head Start, the Vermont Community Loan Foundation, and a number of child care providers.

“The City of Burlington recognizes that we can’t afford to wait on getting families what they need to thrive which is why the City has stepped up and taken action to address our state’s child care crisis,” said Aly Richards, CEO of Let’s Grow Kids. “Every one of us has a role to play in getting this right for our kids, families, and communities – and that’s why Let’s Grow Kids is proud to partner with the City, Mayor Weinberger, and Burlington’s early education leaders on the Early Learning Initiative. Making sure that every family who needs it can access high-quality, affordable child care is our best bet for building a better Vermont today and for generations to come.”

Community Leaders Share Support for the ELI First Steps Scholarship Program’s Second Year

“There is no question that all our community’s children must have the ability to access high-quality early childhood education. Our community is enriched by children being ready for school,” said City Councilor Karen Paul (Ward 6). “I feel very fortunate that our three children received a quality early childhood education in Burlington and understand the struggles many parents face in finding excellent and affordable early childhood options in our community. Today’s announcement brings us one step closer to closing this opportunity gap and bringing essential education to our City’s lower income families.”

“I’m pleased to see the City planning to double the size of the scholarship program, so that more low-income Burlington families can access valuable, high-quality care,” said City Councilor Brian Pine (Ward 3). “I raised my family in this neighborhood and they attended Sara Holbrook programs, and it has only become harder to find and to afford quality child care over the years even as the importance of high-quality care has increased.”

“Burlington’s investment in early childhood education is aligned with the Sara Holbrook Community Center’s mission, focused on the provision of quality, meaningful educational and recreational opportunities,” said Leisa Pollander, Executive Director of the Sara Holbrook Community Center. “We deeply appreciate the leadership of the Mayor’s Office and City Council and their recognition that investment in capacity building for prevention programming does truly support some of the most vulnerable members of our community. The Center is committed to applying for scholarship funds that will enhance access for children dually enrolled in Head Start and the SHCC. The expansion project of this facility will increase not only early education slots, but will also increase the number of elementary out-of-school slots, addressing the needs of working families.”

"The First Steps Scholarship Program has proven to be an innovative approach for helping families find high-quality childcare slots,” said Christina Goodwin, Executive Director of Pine Forest Children’s Center. “This program has allowed Pine Forest Children's Center (PFCC) to expand our available slots for families receiving Child Care Financial Assistance (CCFAP), thereby further diversifying our early childhood program. First Steps provides financial support to programs by filling the gap between CCFAP and the real cost of tuition. With these additional funds, PFCC has been able to develop a plan for increasing wages for teachers over the next two years and diversifying the benefits we offer. This program has proven to support families living in Burlington find high quality care for their young children, supported our program to provide a livable wage for our early childhood educators, and helped us envision better ways to provide early care as teachers to the city's youngest citizens.”

“The First Steps Scholarship program is designed to benefit Burlington families, provide new revenues to high quality child care centers, and leverage additional State subsidy funds without increasing the City’s operating costs,” said Brian Lowe, the City’s Chief Innovation Officer. “The program has benefited from excellent input from child care providers, Let’s Grow Kids, and representatives from the school district and healthcare system. I am excited that the City intends to expand the program in its second year to meet this critical need.”

Update on the Early Learning Initiative’s Capacity Grant Program

To date, the capacity grant program has awarded $662,424 to create up to 85 new high-quality spots and stabilize 166 enrolled spots at high-quality centers. Seventy of the new spots created are for children zero to three years old, and 15 are for children three to five years old. Though about 350 children are born in Burlington each year, prior to the ELI program’s inception, Let’s Grow Kids estimates that there were only 201 high-quality child care spots in the City serving Burlington and non-Burlington families. The stabilized, regulated, and full-time spots include 85 spots for children zero to three and 77 spots for children three to five years old.

In addition, incentivized by the ELI First Steps Scholarship Program, one child care provider – Little Lakers in Colchester – completed the work to increase its STAR rating in order to participate in the scholarship program. This led to an increase in high-quality care of 59 licensed spots. A complete listing of the capacity grants awarded as part of a competitive process, involving a Grant Committee of community stakeholders, a recommendation of the Mayor to City Council, and City Council approval, is included as Appendix A.


Investment in early childhood education has been demonstrated to help prepare children for school, narrow the opportunity gap, improve health outcomes, and reduce future public spending. Since July 2018, thanks to an annual Council appropriation of $500,000 to fund the effort, the support of the Mayor’s Office, and a productive partnership with Let’s Grow Kids, the Burlington Early Learning Initiative has run a capacity grant program to increase and preserve high-quality child care spots in Burlington and has established the ELI First Steps Scholarship Program to provide Burlington families with low incomes with access to high-quality care. ELI has focused primarily on children aged zero to three, and high-quality is defined by achieving a 4- or 5-STAR ranking in the State’s STARs quality improvement and recognition system for early care and education programs. The Burlington Early Learning Initiative is among leaders nationally in its focus on infants and toddlers, and the long-term goal of the program is to ensure that all Burlington children have the opportunity to succeed regardless of family income.

For more information about the Burlington Early Learning Initiative, please download appendices A-D [PDF], which contain the following:

  • Appendix A: ELI Capacity Grant Program Results
  • Appendix B: ELI First Steps Scholarship Program cost model
  • Appendix C: ELI First Steps Scholarship program results
  • Appendix D: ELI First Steps Scholarship Program advertisement, including translations into multiple languages

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