Vermont today won a $37 million federal grant for a statewide, pre-kindergarten program at public schools.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a member of the Senate education committee, worked closely with federal officials and Gov. Peter Shumlin's administration to secure the grant for early childhood education.
Sanders said, "Psychologists tell us that, in terms of human development, the most important years are birth through four years of age. Yet, in terms of early childhood education, our nation does a very inadequate job in making quality pre-kindergarten education available to working families. This major federal grant will significantly improve early childhood education in our state and better prepare our kids for school and the challenges and opportunities of life. I am very appreciative that the Department of Education provided Vermont with this major grant."
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) supported Vermont's application for the award from a U.S. Department of Education program called Race to the Top.
Leahy said, "An educated Vermont is a prosperous and better Vermont. Vermont has always understood the importance of early childhood education and how effective it can be in helping children break the cycle of poverty. This funding will allow Vermont to reach an even greater number of young children and expand their programs to ensure all children have access to quality, early education. I am excited to see the further work this federal partnership with Vermont will make possible in the next few years and the difference it will make for so many Vermont families."
Welch said, "This is great news for Vermont and recognition of the quality of our education system and its leaders. Investments in early childhood education give children the best opportunity to succeed in school and in their future careers. Vermont has distinguished itself with this integrated, statewide approach to serving and educating children."
The four-year grant will help establish an innovative system to serve every child in the state. It will invest in the professional development of teachers and promote improved health care for children and counseling for their parents.
Sanders played a leading role in persuading the Obama administration to reconsider its priorities for granting Race to the Top funds. In private meetings and public hearings, Sanders pressed U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to help Vermont and other rural states that had largely been excluded from the grant program. Most of the funds in the past went to states with big-city school systems.
The grant to Vermont was one of only six announced today by the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services. In addition to Vermont, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania will share a total of $280 million awarded in the third round of the early learning grants.