Voices’ Blog

Seeing it in focus-Thoughts from the Jt. Subcommittee on VPI Reform

Posted:  -  By: Voices for VA's Kids

This summer legislators on the Joint Subcommittee on VPI Reform are getting a crash course in early childhood education policy. They are lucky to have some of the best instructors in the country to share their knowledge and insight. The presentations at the 8/25 meeting from Steve Barnett of NIEER, Amanda Wiliford of UVA, Katharine Stevens of AEI and leaders from Michigan and North Carolina were very detailed, thorough and fact-based. These presentations, on top of the information shared at the July and June meetings, gave legislators a lot of detailed information to consider. (I encourage everyone to review the slides from the presentations at the 8/25 meeting. There was not a lot of new information that would be surprise to long-time advocates but it was authoritatively and definitively presented.)

Early childhood education is appealing to policy makers because of the payoff. What we know is that payoff is not guaranteed, nor is it as great, if our programs are not high quality. We must ask our legislators to tread carefully through this process and make policy choices that are supported by research.

There was some talk at the end of the August meeting about the future of the Joint Subcommittee. The members unanimously agreed to keep their work going for another year. They discussed wanting to expand their attention beyond public preschool. They also discussed potentially piloting new approaches to private-partnerships and teacher credentialing. They have mentioned that they will attempt to “fix” the problems with the eligibility criteria established last year. To me, these discussions speak of the need of the Joint Subcommittee to spend some time reviewing how they might focus their efforts more specifically on Virginia’s barriers to access and quality in early childhood education

We have a few takeaways from the expert presentations. Based on those takeaways and our understanding of the current barriers in Virginia, we think there are some clear policy choices for our legislators to consider. And, as an added benefit, many of those policy choices have spillover effects to do more for kids and families to prepare for success in school than investments in VPI can do alone.


#1– All of the early years are critical to a child’s development.

#2– At the preschool stage, full-day, high-quality early childhood education helps to close the achievement gap.

#3 – High-quality settings educational settings are defined by teachers who are adequately prepared to support learning and who are highly interactive with students.

#4– Getting good outcomes requires a process of continuous quality improvement and monitoring implementation.

#5– We are already getting good outcomes from VPI but perhaps we could do even better, serve more kids, and improve the overall early learning continuum if we made some tweaks.

Policy Choices around VPI

1. Spending/true cost/local match– No beating around the bush; quality early childhood education has a cost. State policymakers shouldn’t ask localities to shoulder even more of the burden of educational costs. If we want to get better outcomes of early childhood education, we need to put more into it. With investments in quality we should be able to avoid costs later on, but we need to prime the pump.

2. Systems-building and oversight- The lessons learned from other states show that private provider partnerships require oversight and support systems. Virginia has the opportunity to put those systems in place through our Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) and our choices about early childhood leadership and governance.  Localities can easily identify and monitor high-quality private providers that participate in QRIS. Providers can be supported to improve quality through QRIS, which can have a spillover effect to children of all ages in private child care arrangements.  Low-income families needing care can better access high-quality providers when their assistance is linked to a proven high-quality setting. Finally, Virginia can better focus and align efforts when high-level leadership, oversight and accountability is in place.

3. Teacher background and preparation and on-the-job training- Two letters of the alphabet are divisive in the early childhood field- BA. There are those who say the best education and preparation comes through a college education, and those who say training in the appropriate skills and competencies is enough. The reality might be that both schools of thought are right and a solution incorporates both. Our current policy choices rest on what we require in terms of preparation to be an early childhood educator, if there are different rewards or benefits for achieving more skills and competencies, and how we support those who are already working in the field or want to be working in the field to improve their skills. We believe systems-building and oversight can play a role here, as well as investing in workforce preparation. We also see a big role for on-the-job mentoring and coaching in the field. Investing in those supports could also be useful to improve the skills of K-3 elementary educators as well.    

We hope that as the policymakers on the Joint Subcommittee continue their work that they will focus on these three areas. We also hope that they will consider the broader contexts of these policy options- how decisions can impact the birth to five cohort and kindergarten to third grade. Finally, we hope that they will keep an eye on policy decisions based on evidence; including the experiences and expertise of Virginia’s early care community.

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