Gov. Peter Shumlin today signed into law legislation making at least 10 hours per week of high-quality education available to every 3- and 4-year-old child in Vermont.
In addition, he released Vermont's Early Childhood Action Plan, the result of a year-long, statewide collaborative effort led by the Governor's office, the Vermont Agency of Human Services, the Vermont Agency of Education, and advocates for early learning initiatives.
The new law requires communities to offer at least 10 hours per week of high-quality, publicly funded pre-kindergarten education for 35 weeks annually to any "prekindergarten children." Qualified pre-kindergarten programs include those operated by public schools, private early education and care programs, and Head Start.
The Governor signed the bill at the Preschool at Stafford Technical Center in Rutland, which has been offering quality education to young children with the assistance of the high school students at the tech center.
The Governor noted that 87 percent of Vermont communities already offer pre-kindergarten programs to their young children, adding, "this bill ensures that no matter where you live, your 3 or 4 year-old will have access to high-quality early education programs, and arrive at school better prepared to learn."
Gov. Shumlin said that universal pre-kindergarten isn't just good for children, but also great for taxpayers, working families, and employers.
"The children who aren't ready to learn when they begin elementary school are very likely to challenge our resources throughout their school years and potentially throughout their lives," the Governor said. "We know that high-quality pre-kindergarten is far less expensive than remediation, retention, and special education later on."
"On average, children who attend intensive, high-quality preschool programs are less likely to repeat a grade, drop out of high school, commit crimes or be placed in special education," said Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe. "They are likely to get better jobs and earn more money over the course of their work lives. We see universal preschool as integral to Vermont's future economic vitality and to the ability of our youngest and most vulnerable to thrive in school and their communities."
"Getting our youngest children off to a good start is the best prevention program we know," agreed Human Services Secretary Doug Racine. "Having kids ready for kindergarten pays long-term dividends in school success and reduction in problems later on in childhood."
Among the benefits of the law:
Parents who work in towns outside their home communities can access pre-kindergarten for their young children closer to their jobs and with more regular hours. No longer will parents have to forego enrolling their children in high-quality early education programs because they can't transport their child to and from the irregularly scheduled available hours. Now they have flexibility in enrollment, transportation, and wrap-around care.
Employers will have a quality workforce in the future, employees who are more confident of the quality of their child's early learning and development program, and a state policy making Vermont attractive to young talent who are seeking employment in a family-friendly state.
Low-income children who have attended a pre-kindergarten program are more likely to be ready for kindergarten. Specifically, Vermont children from low-income backgrounds who don't attend pre-kindergarten have a 30 percent probability of being kindergarten ready, while Vermont students from low-income backgrounds with one or two years of pre-kindergarten have up to a 55 percent probability of being kindergarten ready. This relationship is also present for more affluent students, although it is not as pronounced.
Universal pre-kindergarten was a priority goal of the Action Plan released today. Vermont's Early Childhood Framework, together with this Early Childhood Action Plan, lay out a collective vision for a high-quality, accessible early childhood system for Vermont to chart an ambitious and exciting course for how to get there. The goals of the Action Plan include:
* A Healthy Start for All Children
* Families and Communities Play a Leading Role
* High-Quality Opportunities for All Children
* Invest Now for Our Future
* Know We're Making a Difference
* An Innovative and Connected System
Building Bright Futures, Vermont's state and regional early childhood governance body which works to promote improvements in access, quality, and affordability of prevention and intervention services for families and young children, will assume responsibility for coordinating, monitoring and reporting on the implementation of the Action Plan.
To read the action plan, visit http://buildingbrightfutures.org/just-released-vermonts-2014-early-childhood-action-plan/.
"I am confident that we will be able to carry out the work envisioned in the Action Plan," the Governor said. "In fact, much of that work is already underway."