Vt. Preschool Partnership Has Raised $800,000

Williston, Vt. (ap) — Gov. Peter Shumlin said Wednesday a new public-private partnership has raised $800,000 to help move the state closer to his goal of 100 percent of preschoolers getting access to quality early-childhood education.

“There is no question that quality pre-K programs give kids the best start possible, ensuring they arrive at school ready to learn,” Shumlin said at Heartworks, a Williston preschool packed with adults and children for his announcement.

Strong preschool programs lead to better future outcomes, ranging from more high-school graduates going to college to fewer dropping out or ending up in jail, he said.

The funding is expected to help a dozen communities launch public preschool programs for 3- and 4-year-olds and help pay for them in the first two years, with money after that coming from the state Education Fund, which provides state aid to local school districts.

Of the $800,000, half is coming from the Agency of Education budget, Shumlin said. The rest is coming from the Vermont Community Preschool Collaborative.

The effort comes well short of that envisioned in a bill that died in the waning days of this year’s legislative session. That bill called for making preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds mandatory.

New state funding would have been about $1.2 million in 2015 had the bill passed, said Rep. Sarah Buxton, D-Tunbridge, a member of the House Education Committee and a main backer of the bill. That was projected to grow to $9.1 million in the 10th year of the program.

Shumlin had called for a bigger expansion of child care subsidies by using money he wanted to cut from a program that uses a state earned income tax credit to provide cash benefits to low-income working residents. Shumlin’s fellow Democrats in the Legislature rejected that approach, arguing it amounted to cutting one program designed to help low-income residents to strengthen another.

Shumlin spokeswoman Susan Allen emailed a follow-up statement Wednesday afternoon, saying the governor supports the bill backed by Buxton and Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, which is known as the universal pre-K bill.

Shumlin “looks forward to discussions about details, costs and funding sources,” Allen wrote. “We continue down the road toward universal pre-k with today’s announcement.”

At the news conference, Shumlin said 70 percent of the state’s 13,000 pre-school-eligible children have access to preschool.

“That’s a great accomplishment,” he said. “Our job is to get the other 30 percent.”

Several early education professionals said the governor’s 70 percent number was overstated. Seventy is the percentage of children up to age 5 who need child care because their parents or other adults in their households work, said Reeva Murphy, deputy commissioner of the Department for Children and Families.

Buxton said the most recent figures show about 65 percent of 4-year-olds have preschool services available, while just 16 percent of 3-year-olds do. About 38 percent of the state’s roughly 13,000 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in preschool, she said.