Both educators and parents recognize the importance of quality preschool education as the basis of future success in schools. In some cases, this takes the form of parents preparing their own children. In others, day care centers can provide this function. In still others, preschool education can occur in more formalized settings, either in schools themselves or at learning centers.
For many children, no choice is offered. Poor children -- those who most need additional learning opportunities -- are less likely to attend preschool. The result is a significant preparation gap between poor and middle-class children, and often between minority and white children. This is the origin of the achievement gap which is the focus of so much attention in our public schools today. Without this early childhood intervention, the resources we expend on elementary education will not be as effectively utilized as they otherwise could be.
The Commonwealth has a key role to play to give parents options. I have been a strong supporter of the Virginia Preschool Initiative and former Governor Tim Kaine's expansion of eligibility that opened up the program to an additional 11,000 low-income children. A recent University of Virginia study shows that four-year-olds who participated in the program were more prepared, more literate, and were less likely to have to repeat Kindergarten.
I worked with Governor Kaine to restore preschool funding which was cut by the federal government, and with the United Way and other community agencies on the local Smart Beginnings efforts. I support:
* Certification of childcare centers linked to quality educational services provided for children.
* Supplemental grants and funding for local school divisions for half-day school for four-year-olds.
* Extending preschool funding to all eligible four-year-olds through the Virginia Preschool Initiative -- and eventually to all eligible three-year-olds.