The 2020 Virginia Legislative Session opens today January 8, 2020! What Virginians will discuss about early childhood education, maternal health and higher education could make history for the health and well-being of our children for generations to come.
Leading up to Session, in July 2019 Governor Ralph Northam issued Executive Directive 4. In this directive he asked an Executive Leadership Team of state agency leaders to conduct listening sessions, analyze data, and collaborate across agencies to develop a set of recommendations to address access to, quality of and state oversight around early childhood education. In the Governor’s budget released mid-December 2019, he boldly attached proposed resources of $95 million for our youngest children and families. This is our best opportunity to level the playing field for at-risk children right from the start. This is especially important because only 60% of VA kindergartners start school with key literacy, math and social-emotional skills needed to be successful in school. Unfortunately, VA ranks 33rd nationally in preschool funding, so the time is right for these proposed investments.
At Smart Beginnings VA Peninsula, we are happy to see this level of comprehensive support through potential resources and policy change for early childhood development and health. For many years SBVP and its partners have worked across multiple sectors (school, business, philanthropy, health, human services) to break down silos and align programs. Locally, we have learned that when we work together as a community we can meet the school readiness needs of our young children in a more equitable way, especially to serve more at-risk children and families.
We are glad to see the focus of the Governor’s proposed funding for VPI classrooms ($59.5 m) , so more children can attend preschool. There is also a possibility of including the most at-risk three year olds, with $26 m to expand access to high-quality preschool for three-year-olds via Mixed Delivery Preschool grants. A recent local example in SE VA is the Hampton and Gloucester Mixed Delivery Preschool Pilots through a public and private partnership to increase enrollment in high quality preschool programs for four year olds. Those two areas will be working with Head Start, VPI classrooms and private child care providers to raise the level of quality through teacher and child classroom interactions and shared teacher professional development.
From a family viewpoint, the uniform measurement system that is proposed would help parents better understand what quality early education looks like. As a consumer, every family would know up front what the quality of their child’s early learning setting is before they choose to enroll them.
Lastly, the support for the early childhood workforce with incentives to train and retain the teachers of young children is critically important ($9.3 m is proposed for this). These teachers are Virginia’s brain builders, yet many of them live at a subsistence level themselves. Most of them are not paid a worthy wage, nor are they able to enter higher education to better their educational qualifications. When a child has a educated teacher, they do better when they enter kindergarten. We want that for every child in our communities and state.
How exciting to see that our state is moving from talk to action for our youngest children – stakeholders and parents have talked long enough. We have learned a lot over the years. Now we have a great opportunity to change the trajectory of education for generations of children to come!
~Diane Umstead, Executive Director