Sen. Warner, who championed early childhood programs and doubled the number of children enrolled in the Virginia Preschool Initiative during his 2002-6 term as Governor, had urged federal approval of Virginia’s request for funding in an Oct. 16, 2014 letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
“This federal support allows the Commonwealth to expand and improve the Virginia Preschool Initiative, which helps equip at-risk four-year-old children not served by Head Start with the critical skills they need for lifelong learning,” Sen. Warner said. “I am especially pleased that Virginia’s initiative includes community partnerships to improve early childhood readiness as well as professional development for educators.”
According to the Governor’s Office, the grant from the U.S. Department of Education will support expansion and improvement of the Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) in 11 high-needs school divisions beginning in the 2015-2016 school year. VPI is a state-funded program that currently supports quality preschool programs for approximately 18,000 at-risk four-year-olds.
In addition to providing high-quality preschool experiences and activities, the selected divisions will offer focused outreach to families and communities, as well as individualized support for children with unique learning needs, including students with disabilities, English-language learners and children from military families. This combination of instruction, outreach and support will be known as VPI Plus, and participating localities include Brunswick County, Chesterfield County, Fairfax County, Giles County, Henrico County, Norfolk, Petersburg, Prince William County, Richmond, Sussex County and Winchester.
The divisions were selected based on the following indicators of need: poverty, number of Title I schools, percentage of children entering kindergarten below the state’s literacy readiness benchmark and the number of unserved at-risk four-year-olds.
Together, the divisions have committed to establishing 88 VPI Plus classrooms and improving services for children in 94 existing preschool classes.