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Voices’ Blog

Big Ideas for Little Learners

Posted:  -  By: Emily Griffey

Last year we called for some big ideas for early childhood education in Virginia. During the 2019 General Assembly session we are seeing those ideas take shape in the form of budget proposals and bills. Voices will be working to see these ideas become a reality.

Early Education in the Governor’s Budget

Our last blog post highlighted the Governor’s budget proposal to sustain the VPI+ classrooms in 13 school divisions. Additionally, the Governor requested funding for new quality initiatives targeted to Virginia Preschool Initiative classrooms. If these proposals are adopted, next school year all VPI classrooms will be required to participate in the Virginia Kindergarten Readiness Program (VKRP), a comprehensive assessment of a child’s school readiness. To help improve the quality of instruction in VPI, all classrooms will be observed as to how educators support learning and targeted professional development will be offered. Finally, additional resources would be provided to implement evidence-based curriculum in VPI.

Early Childhood Success Act

For many years now, early childhood stakeholders and advocates have called for better alignment among early childhood program oversight at the state-level, and at the ground-level between public and private early childhood settings. The Early Childhood Success Act (SB1095 and HB2458) seeks to make that unification a reality by moving early childhood program oversight currently housed at the Department of Social Services to the Department of Education. This bill seeks to move the Child Care and Development Block Grant funds and oversight to VDOE along with child care licensing and standards. The bill has a delayed effective date of July 1, 2021 meaning that the Department of Education, and Board of Education, would have time to develop more detailed plans to move the programs. The bill also seeks to establish the Early Childhood Innovation Fund housed at the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation as a means of pooling public and private funds to support local innovation.

The call for better alignment in the system has been a long time coming. Virginia leaders have often looked to other states with “offices of early learning” or states that have moved all early childhood effort to the Departments of Education, such as Maryland, as models for what Virginia might do to strengthen our system. We have called out the decline in participation in child care subsidy in Virginia and the need to better align the use of subsidy funds with incentives to improve the quality of child care.

Voices supports the Early Childhood Success Act. Look for more details at the end of this blog for updates on the House and Senate bills. We are hopeful that these ideas will improve early childhood outcomes across the state, particularly for disadvantaged children. As we work to support the passage of this act, with it’s potential to make major shifts to early childhood programs, we must think through some of the metrics we would use to define progress and success.

To measure progress towards a smooth and successful implementation we would want to ensure that we increase the number of economically disadvantaged young children that can access high-quality early learning through child care subsidies, Head Start, and VPI. To demonstrate the efficiencies of unification we would want a long-term plan that saves money on oversight and administration. And we would want to see a process where early childhood stakeholders can understand how changes may impact their hiring, training, management, and administration.

To measure success, we would want to see more students ready for kindergarten as a result of these efforts. Recently we have pointed out that using our current measure of readiness, the PALS-K, our statewide outcomes have stalled, showing not much improvement in readiness each year. We are hopefully that we can keep using this benchmark to demonstrate when investments in early childhood systems and quality improvement began to demonstrate a big pay off and return.

Updates on the Early Childhood Success Act as of 1/22/19

Senate 

There are two identical bills in the Senate SB1313 (Dunnavant) and SB1095 (Howell). They are now rolled into one bill, SB1095 which was reported by the Committee on Education and Health and referred to Finance. There were a few amendments offered by the patrons eliminating some of the directives to the Board of Education.

House

HB2458 has been introduced by Del. Steve Landes and referred to the Committee on Education. The bill was heard in subcommittee on 1/21/2019. Similar amendments were made as in the Senate and the bill was reported and referred to the full Education Committee.

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