Albert J. Marro / Staff File Photo
Gov. Peter Shumlin is surrounded by lawmakers and the children and staff of Stafford Technical Centerís pre-school program as he signs the early education bill into law last month.
Last week the governor signed H.270, an act relating to universal pre-kindergarten, into law. As an early and active supporter of this legislation, the Vermont Early Childhood Alliance celebrates the passage of this historic bill that will ensure access for all of Vermontís 3- and 4-, and eligible 5-year-old children to high-quality pre-kindergarten.
H. 270 builds upon legislation passed in 2007 which allowed school districts to provide publicly funded pre-kindergarten for age-eligible children, either through a public school or private provider. In 2012, the Agency of Education estimated that just 36 percent of age-eligible children participated in publicly funded pre-kindergarten statewide. Currently, 38 towns in Vermont do not offer pre-kindergarten, and many towns have low participation rates.
H. 270 will increase participation and access by expanding the availability of quality pre-kindergarten education to all families who choose to enroll their age-eligible children. Starting with the 2015-16 school year, school districts will provide or pay for at least 10 hours per week of pre-kindergarten education for 35 weeks a year for all 3-, 4- and 5-year-old children who are not enrolled in kindergarten in their district and whose parents enroll them in a prequalified program.
Why is pre-kindergarten important? High-quality pre-kindergarten education helps children reach their full potential.
It leads to higher high school graduation rates, for example. Pre-kindergarten helps our kids get started on the right foot and avoid problems that end up costing all of us. Studies show that for every $1 invested in pre-kindergarten, we save $8 in future public costs for things like substance abuse treatment and corrections.
Pre-kindergarten helps kids be ready to make the most of kindergarten. In Springfield, for example, the percentage of incoming students considered to be well-prepared for kindergarten increased from 24 percent in 2007 to 60 percent in 2011, which correlates with when the school district started offering publicly funded pre-kindergarten.
Pre-kindergarten offers skill development and support when kids need it most. Many parents already know that pre-kindergarten is good for their kids, and now science is showing that, too. Studies show that 90 percent of a childís brain is developed by age 5, before a child enters kindergarten. Giving children access to high-quality early education lays the foundation for future learning, skill-building, and social-emotional development. We help our children build strong brains and the best possible future by giving them access to high-quality early experiences.
And perhaps just as important, kids love pre-kindergarten. I know that first-hand because my 5-year-old son loves going to our local elementary school three days a week. He gets to be with the big kids, learn about numbers and letters, and start to build skills that will help him succeed when he enters kindergarten this fall. He canít wait to get started.
H. 270 will ensure that all young children in Vermont can access these kinds of high-quality early experiences. We are fortunate that Gov. Shumlin and the Legislature are making significant investments in improving the early childhood system, from birth through pre-kindergarten. These investments will have a positive impact on the rest of a childís life and on the health and success of the whole community now and into the future.
On behalf of the members of the Vermont Early Childhood Alliance, I would like to thank the administration, the governor, the Legislature, and all of the people who contacted their legislators to declare their support for universal pre-kindergarten in Vermont. And the kids thank you, too.
Matt Levin is the incoming executive director of the Vermont Early Childhood Alliance. He and his family live in Berlin.
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