First Lady Pam Northam announced proposed investments in early childhood education at the Joint Subcommittee on Virginia Preschool Initiative Reform on December 10, 2018. The First Lady, and Chief School Readiness Officer, Jenna Conway provided details of what would be included in the Governor’s budget proposal for early childhood for the legislative members of the committee. A highlight of the early childhood announcement was the proposal to incentivize the 13 school divisions currently receiving federal funds for VPI+ to sustain their classrooms.
Virginia has received a federal grant called the Preschool Development Grant which has been used to fund 1,500 additional slots at-risk preschool students know as VPI+. However, this federal funding is set to expire next school year. For the past four years this grant has funded the expansion of what look much like VPI classrooms in 13 local school divisions and community programs. These federal funds allowed these localities to cover the start-up costs for new classrooms, to hire and train new preschool teachers, and to test innovative strategies for instructional improvement using observation, coaching and other professional development. These classrooms are where 1,500 economically disadvantaged 4 year-olds in Virginia have received high quality instruction for the last four years.With the grant funding going away, we cannot lose the progress we have made to expand these classrooms.
The Governor’s budget proposal for $9.7 million in state general funds would provide a financial incentive to the local school divisions to keep classrooms open. Using the existing VPI funding formula to provide funding for additional slots, this proposal covers the full state per pupil allocation, including the local school division’s portion for the next school year. This full state contribution would phase out over the next three years as localities prepare to pick up more of the local cost. This bridge funding is necessary to keep localities from having to suddenly come up with ALL of the funding to sustain the grant-funded classrooms at one time.
Although the state VPI funding still does not cover the full cost of providing a high-quality local preschool program, this proposal is a good deal for local school division who participated in VPI+. Through this enhanced state contribution local school divisions can keep classrooms and retain teachers. They can also use the lessons learned from VPI+ enhancements, and the additional elements of the VPI quality improvement proposal, to improve the quality of those classrooms. For the last four years this federal grant has filled a gap where state money might have been used to expand. This year, with the lottery revenues up and support for quality initiatives rolling out statewide, provides the perfect opportunity for the state to provide a bridge for localities to sustain these efforts.
Learn more about the opportunities provided to economically disadvantaged students in VPI+ classrooms in this excellent 6 minute video from the Virginia Department of Education.