Voices’ Blog

Good news for early childhood investments in Alexandria!

Posted:  -  By: Emily Griffey

We learned in February that the FY18 budget proposals for Alexandria included modest but important investments for the Virginia Preschool Initiative in the schools budget and for the Early Childhood division at DCHS in the city budget, to continue the great work of these staff and programs. There would also be an increase coming for SNAP benefits – because this need is growing in the City of Alexandria.

Our advocacy attention turned to something important that was missing, the FY17 increased investment in child care subsidy was gone for FY18. These FY17 dollars also support the Scholarship for Fours so that low-income working families can participate in VPI and get help affording a full day of child care for their four-year-old children.

Throughout the budget process advocates strategized for a solution. The message was: invest robustly in Scholarship for Fours and in the local child care subsidy program; approve investments for FY18 that are at least equal to the FY17 investment, and look to fully maximize local dollars for Scholarship for Fours and child care subsidy in FY18 and the years to come.

A solution came in the form of an amendment offered by Vice Mayor Justin Wilson, to create a contingent reserve fund ($451,743) for early childhood services. On May 4, City Council approved a $728.1 million General Fund operating budget for FY 2018, and the contingent reserve fund was included in the final package.

The intent is to give the city additional resources and flexibility to meet local needs for crucial child care and early childhood education services. The FY 2018 funds were made available by drawing on the Juvenile Detention Contingent Reserve; funds that have not been utilized due to the great work to reduce juvenile incarceration. (Read more about these efforts across the state.) There are still dialogues and decisions needed about the future of the juvenile detention center shared by Alexandria, Arlington and Falls Church; and a plan will be needed from the City Manager about how to use the early childhood contingent reserve funds in order to access those funds. But the good news is, that Council supported the request, and found a way to sustain their good work in previous years to invest in early education.

Voices for Virginia’s Children thanks Vice Mayor Justin Wilson for leading this amendment, and the City Council for approving it. We also thank our partners in Alexandria for collaborating on an ask to City Council; and seizing this opportunity to continue the local investment in early education. Teamwork made a difference for children and families in the City of Alexandria for FY2018. Thank you to all who participated in the hearings, made calls, signed letters, and reached out to city leaders.

Background on early care and education in Alexandria:

Alexandria’s VPI model includes partnerships with ALIVE! Child Development Center, The Campagna Center, Child and Family Network Centers, and Creative Play School. Among these four programs with locations across the city, there are 213 VPI students enrolled, and 59 of these children benefit from the scholarship. These program leaders see first-hand the difference state and local investments are making to Alexandria’s low-income working families and their children. Alexandria’s efforts with the state Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) continue to strengthen early learning in the city, with crucial partnerships between Alexandria City Public Schools and high-quality private child care programs. The “mixed delivery” opportunity has myriad benefits and has earned the attention of policy-makers statewide. Alexandria’s investment in Scholarship for Fours is a locally-driven, crucial support for the low-income working parents of VPI children who need full-day child care and need assistance to afford it. Without it, families would be challenged to enroll their children in VPI.

Based on the enrollment of the four partners, we estimate that there are 78 children that are in VPI now and would be eligible for Scholarship for Fours. However, FY17 funds have been put to good use and exhausted. Additionally, the city needs a robust Scholarship for Fours to make the work a success in the next school year, as we consider our current classes of three-year-old children and their families, and review the VPI enrollment forms that are beginning to arrive. Meanwhile, from FY2015 to FY2016, we’ve seen stalled participation in the state’s child care assistance program and a loss of 4,500 children statewide due to insufficient funds. We expect that number to increase in the years ahead. Currently there are 380 low-income Alexandria families waiting for child care subsidy assistance and without city funding intervention, we can expect that number to rise as well.

Years ago, the City of Alexandria acknowledged that it would have to take the lead to support low-income working families of infants, toddlers, preschoolers and school-age children who are eligible for child care subsidy. Program providers see these children each day engaging in the early learning experiences that will prepare them for school and for life. All this goes on while their parents have the peace of mind to work each day to support their own families because they have access to full-day child care.

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