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Changes to the the VA Preschool Initiative- 2015 Adopted Budget

Posted:  -  By: Voices for VA's Kids

Virginia’s state-funded preschool program for at-risk four year-olds has steadily grown in popularity with parents and school division administrators enrolling over 18,000 students this past fall. Yet this GA Session that popularity was not enough to counteract some significant policy changes for the program. A number of budget amendments were introduced to shape VPI policy (remember, VPI is a program only in the budget, not the code). Due to the significant number of proposed changes and the little time to weigh the merits of the policy of this program through the budget adoption process, we had advocated that the General Assembly hold off on making changes this year and move forward with the Jt. Subcommittee on VPI Reform rather than make changes. The Jt. Subcommittee on Reform is moving forward, along with some other significant changes as well unless the Governor acts to amend or veto any of these proposals. The Governor has until March 29th to announce his changes.

 1. Uniform eligibilityРInstead of the introduced budget amendment recommending a uniform income eligibility criteria for VPI of 130% poverty (eligibility for free lunch), the adopted budget includes the following eligibility guidelines: 1) family income below 200% poverty 2) homelessness 3) parent/guardian did not graduate HS 4) a student with special needs/disabilities below 350% poverty. The Dept of Education will also be asked to collect aggregate data on the number of students enrolled below 130% poverty and above 130% and below 200% poverty. This change will impact the upcoming enrollment and recruitment processes for VPI next fall.

2. Allocated slots updated for kindergarten enrollmentРAn amendment was adopted to update VPI slot allocation based on new kindergarten enrollment projections and reduce overall VPI funding by $2.9 million. Because there is language in the introduced budget that the 2014 hold harmless allocation will continue for FY16, some communities will not be impacted by these changes this year but could be if they continue in the future (notably Norfolk, Newport News, Portsmouth and  Lynchburg). However there are a few communities will be impacted by the allocation changes due to kindergarten enrollment this coming fall (most notably Roanoke City, Tazewell, Southampton, Greenville & Campbell would lose allocated slots of a classroom or more).

3. VPI+ federal grant– The adopted budget includes language allocating the federal preschool expansion grants and language that state general funds will not be used to cover any reductions in received or budgeted federal grant funds.

4.  Formation of Jt. Subcommittee on VPI Reform- Chairman of House Appropriations and Senate Finance shall appoint up to 5 members from their committee to provide recommendations for reforming VPI by Nov. 1, 2015. The staff of the education subcommittees and the Dept of Education will help facilitate the scope of work. VECF will provide support and resources to members and staff. Stakeholders such as VDSS, VCCS, local school division, private providers, accredited organization, education associations and businesses may provide additional information if requested.

With all of these changes, we anticipate that VPI will be a high profile issue throughout the year and during the next General Assembly Session. We hope to work with partners in local school divisions and the K-12 policy arena to highlight to better integrate VPI in K-12 policy discussion. Voices chairs the VPI Workgroup of the Commonwealth Council on Childhood Success and we hope that the recommendations of that workgroup will be taken into consideration of the Jt. Subcommittee as well. Our position will continue to support the expansion of high quality preschool opportunities to at-risk students across the Commonwealth. We look forward to reviewing and weighing the recommendations of the Commonwealth Council and Jt. Subcommittee for the impact on preparing at-risk students for success in school.

To weigh in on this issue, contact Emily Griffey, Sr. Policy Analyst, at emily@vakids.org

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