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Northam looks to boost early-childhood education in budget

virginia general assembly
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Gov. Ralph Northam is including $94.8 million in his proposed state budget to boost early-childhood education in Virginia public schools.

The new funding will increase access for at-risk 3- and 4-year-olds, establish uniform accountability standards, and ensure educators have the training and support they need, especially in child care settings.

“Where we end up in life has a lot to do with where we start,” Northam said in a news release. “Every child should have an equal opportunity to build a strong foundation, and early childhood education is one of the best investments we can make in our children’s health, well-being, and future success. Today’s announcement is about leveling the playing field, supporting Virginia families, and investing in our shared future.”

Virginia ranks in the bottom third of states when it comes to investment in early childhood education. According to the Virginia Kindergarten Readiness Program, almost half of Virginia children enter kindergarten without the basic skills they need to succeed in school.

This is largely due to lack of access — 72 percent of 3-year-olds and 24 percent of 4-year-olds from economically-disadvantaged families currently lack access to high-quality early learning experiences.

“Too often, our most vulnerable children lack access to the high-quality, affordable education they need,” said First Lady Pamela Northam. “These bold changes will grow and train our educator workforce, support families across the Commonwealth, and ensure our youngest Virginians have a strong start in life.”

Northam’s proposed budget allocates $59.5 million for the Virginia Preschool Initiative to increase early childhood education access for at-risk 4-year-olds. This funding will go towards increasing the amount of per-pupil dollars, boosting incentives for private providers, ensuring class size flexibility, and helping to eliminate waiting lists. The budget also includes $26 million to pilot the expansion of the Virginia Preschool Initiative and state Mixed Delivery Grants to at-risk three-year-olds in both school and private child care settings.

“Early childhood educators don’t often get the support, training, and recognition they deserve,” said Isabel Ballivian, executive director of the ACCA Child Development Center. “This funding will empower us to better serve Virginia’s children, and will help us to make an even bigger difference in the lives of the families we serve.”

The proposed budget includes $1.3 million to support uniform quality measurement and improvement for early childhood classrooms receiving public dollars. The system, which will ultimately include more than 10,000 classrooms statewide, will help improve the quality of care and education for infants, toddlers and preschoolers and provide valuable information to families.

The budget also includes $8 million to expand an innovative incentive program to attract, train, and retain early childhood educators, with a particular focus on supporting child care teachers who work in center or family day home settings.

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