The Loveworks Child Care Center in the Catamount Industrial Park will be one of three Loveworks centers in the state to close on March 13, the company announced in a letter to families using their centers earlier this month.
In their letter, Loveworks explained the closure of its Milton location, as well as schools in Montpelier and on Williston Road in South Burlington, came “purely as a result of budget constraints.”
Loveworks’ two remaining child care centers in Essex Junction and on Shelburne Road in South Burlington are expected to see tuition rates increase by 12 percent for all current and incoming children starting Feb. 28.
The higher tuition costs, according to Loveworks, are “necessary to remain open and operational at both locations.”
According to Amanda Goodwin, a spokesperson for Little Sprouts, the Massachusetts-based company that owns Vermont’s five Loveworks centers, the company opted to close three of its centers due to financial difficulty.
“The very unfortunate truth is that all five centers were losing money and that none of them were profitable,” Goodwin said. “That being said, we wanted to make sure we explored every possibility on what we could do to stay open anywhere.”
The Essex and Shelburne Road Loveworks centers both served the largest number of children and had the largest staffs, hence their prioritization as Loveworks sought to downsize, according to Goodwin.
“Even then, the 12 percent increase in tuition was necessary for them to be profitable,” Goodwin said.
Together, the three closing child care centers had 85 children enrolled in their facilities and employed 25 full-time employees.
Thirty-five of those students were enrolled at the Loveworks school in Milton.
According to Goodwin, while the remaining facilities in Essex Junction and South Burlington would try to absorb some of the employees from Loverworks’ three closing child care centers, she warned “we won’t be able to accommodate everyone.”
The announced closures come as Vermont – and the U.S. at large – continues struggling with a high demand for child care services.
According to Let’s Grow Kids’ 2020 Stalled at the Start report, 62 percent of infants and more than a quarter of all toddlers determined by the early childhood advocacy group likely to need care lacked access to regulated child care facilities in Vermont.
Within Chittenden County, where most of Loveworks’ schools were located, almost half of all infants likely needing access to a child care center lacked that access, while 8 percent of toddlers likely did not have access to available slots at a regulated child care center.
According to Goodwin, the financial pressure that ultimately led to Loveworks’ closures came mostly from employee wages, which could be comparatively high in states where there are stricter regulations and licensing requirements for child care providers.
“Vermont has particularly high standards,” Goodwin said. “That’s a big expense on those who want to go into the field, so we have to figure out how to have a competitive wage point to keep people employed.”
Likewise, Loveworks’ smaller schools were especially sensitive to changes in class size, according to Goodwin.
“The cost of what it takes to run a center and pay fairly can be really difficult,” Goodwin said. “Given the size of the school... one family dropping out could put the school in a danger zone.”
According to Goodwin, none of the schools expected to close this March were fully enrolled.
Gov. Phil Scott recently highlighted the affordability of access to child care programming in his budget address, proposing to commit $3 million to child care assistance raised through expanding the state lottery.
According to Let’s Grow Kids, Vermont families can spend up to 30 percent of their annual income on child care even with financial assistance.
That contrasts to recommendations from the federal Dept. of Health and Human Services, which suggests families should only spend 7 percent of their annual income on child care, according to the 2020 Stalled at the Start report.
Little Sprouts acquired the Loveworks, Heartworks and STEAMworks schools in November 2018.