New early childhood investments spurring enrollment in preschool programs

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Increased investment in Virginia’s two largest state-funded preschool programs is expected to result in historic enrollment for the upcoming school year.

The Commonwealth has authorized $151.6 million to Virginia Preschool Initiative and Mixed Delivery in fiscal year 2022, a $60.9 million increase from the previous school year and more than twice the investment made in fiscal year 2018.

As a result, the Virginia Department of Education’s Virginia Preschool Initiative and the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation’s Mixed Delivery Preschool Grant Program anticipate serving more than 25,000 three and four-year-olds this fall, as employers reopen and students safely return to in-person instruction.

Federally funded early childhood programs are also now open to more families in Virginia than ever before. Families earning up to 85 percent of the state median income with young children are temporarily eligible for Virginia’s Child Care Subsidy Program thanks to HB 2206 sponsored by Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn, which Gov. Ralph Northam extended last month.

The program is serving more than 20,000 children, which is 94 percent of its pre-pandemic total. Federal Head Start and Early Head Start Programs are funded to serve 14,463 children this school year and all sites are working towards full in-person enrollment by January 1, 2022.

“Access to high quality early learning is critical for children’s development, and the Commonwealth’s investment in early childhood education is a major reason Virginia was named the best state to do business for the second year in a row,” Northam said. “Increasing school readiness is more important than ever as we recover from the pandemic, and this historic commitment puts us one step closer to offering a great start for all Virginia children.”

Since 2018, First Lady Pamela Northam has traveled over 10,000 miles to nearly 200 schools and early childhood programs along with staff from the Virginia Department of Education, Virginia Department of Social Services, and members of the General Assembly. Her engagement with parents, educators, business leaders, and other stakeholders led to legislation and investments in early childhood education from the General Assembly in fiscal years 2021 and 2022.

Northam’s 2021 Back to School Tour kicks off Aug. 18-19 with eight stops in Southwest Virginia.

“We’re excited to get back on the road to meet children and families who now have access to quality in-person early learning programs for the first time thanks to these transformative investments,” said First Lady Pamela Northam. “This is also a chance to thank the superhero educators who have adapted to provide safe and supportive environments for our littlest learners to thrive.”

The Virginia Department of Education became the single point of accountability and oversight for all publicly funded early childhood programs in Virginia thanks to new laws that took effect July 1, 2021. Its new Division of Early Childhood Care and Education brings together 120 full time employees, many of whom transitioned from the Virginia Department of Social Services, to focus on increasing access to high-quality, publicly-funded early childhood care and education programs.

Recent data from the Virginia Kindergarten Readiness Program showed that 52 percent of Virginia’s kindergarteners ended the school year still needing support to build foundational skills in literacy, math, self-regulation, and/or social skills.

 

“We know that 90 percent of a child’s brain development occurs before the age of five, so high quality early childhood education programs are a key strategy to increasing student achievement from kindergarten to after graduation,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane. “A unified approach across all early learning settings is more important than ever as we emerge from the pandemic and equip the next generation of students to succeed in the 21st century workforce.”

More than 23,600 students across 126 school divisions are projected to be served by Virginia Preschool Initiative classrooms in the 2021-2022 school year. This compares with approximately 18,000 total children served by Virginia Preschool Initiative programs in 124 divisions before the pandemic. Thirty-seven school divisions will serve a combined total of about 1,600 3-year-olds in their Virginia Preschool Initiative classrooms.

This is the second year of a pilot program to provide young learners with multiple years of preschool experience to prepare them for success in kindergarten and beyond.

Nearly 1,500 3- and 4-year-olds will be served by the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation’s Mixed Delivery Grant Program across 45 localities. This compares to 239 children in 9 localities from 2020-2021.

$151.6 million has been authorized to Virginia Preschool Initiative and Mixed Delivery for the fiscal year 2022. This is a $60.9 million increase from the previous school year, and more than twice the investment made in fiscal year 2018.

Head Start and Early Head Start funding will serve more than 14,400 children in Virginia this school year.

More than 20,000 children were participating in Virginia’s Child Care Subsidy Program as of August 16, 2021. This is a 51 percent increase from March 2021, meaning an additional 7,325 children are served through expanded eligibility. $316.3 million from the 2020 federal relief dollars were invested in Virginia’s early childhood system.

As a result, 95 percent of licensed and regulated child care and early education programs are now open and serving children in person.

The Child Care and Development Block Grant received $793 million of additional American Rescue Plan dollars approved by the General Assembly in August.

Find more information on the Virginia Preschool Initiative here.

Find more information about the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation and the mixed-delivery grant initiative here.

Learn more about eligibility expansion for the Child Care Subsidy Program, and to apply, click here.

To learn about Head Start and Early Head Start contact your local school division.

To help address workforce shortages in child care, qualifying child care businesses may qualify for up to $500 “Return to Earn” bonuses for new hires without a match requirement.


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augusta free press news