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Shumlin Pushes Early Education Plan

Montpelier — Providing universal early childhood education for all Vermonters will provide for a bright economic future for the state, Gov. Peter Shumlin said Tuesday at an early childhood summit he called for in January.

More than 250 people gathered at the Capitol Plaza Hotel on Tuesday for the daylong summit that served as the unveiling of “Vermont’s Early Childhood Framework,” a document aimed at providing a comprehensive early childhood system for the state.

The framework is creating common goals and “begins to create a common language across disciplines.” Shumlin called for Tuesday’s summit in his second inaugural address delivered in January. A group of state officials and private stakeholders have since been creating the framework document, including a broad set of goals.

The goals are intended to “reflect new ways of thinking about the role of funding, families, communities, the delivery of services and access to community resources.” Shumlin said his major goal is to usher a universal preschool bill through the Legislature when it reconvenes in January. The House passed such a measure last year but the Senate has yet to follow suit.

“We’re going to get it through the Senate and to my desk this year,” Shumlin said.

The governor delivered a passionate address to summit attendees about the importance of development in children before the third grade. He said a greater focus, and getting everyone on board with the framework’s goals, will provide a boost to the state.

“When you’re governor, some things come from your heart and some things come from your head,” Shumlin said. “Every once in awhile the two meet. For me, this one is one where they happen to meet.” He added, “I would argue that this is the most important work we can be doing together to make Vermont the first state — that’s exactly what this framework is setting up — the first state where early childhood education, zero to first grade, or zero and on up, is as important or more important than the rest of the education experience.” The framework, Shumlin said, involved “months and years of planning.” But stakeholders from all sectors are now involved and recognize the importance of ensuring that all children have early opportunities to learn and develop, he said.

“Where else would you find a business roundtable in a state that gets this piece of the future of economic development of a healthy state?” he said.

Research shows that a child’s early years play a major role in that child’s later years, Shumlin said.

“This is where we spend the resources, do the work and deliver the goods,” he said. “That’s our responsibility as Vermonters. That’s our responsibility in a democracy. This cuts (across) party lines. ... This is what should unite us as Vermonters.” The state spends a large amount of money to incarcerate people who commit crimes because of drug and alcohol addictions, he said. The “vast majority” of such offenders have difficulty reading, making it difficult to secure a job, he said.

Investing in early childhood education will eventually save money in the Department of Corrections budget, Shumlin said.

“For that 54,000 (the annual estimated cost to house one inmate), you can take care of 12 or 14 or 18 young kids, get them the resources they need so they don’t lose their self-esteem, so they succeed in school, so they have the self-confidence and the vision and the opportunity to make great things happen,” Shumlin said. “We will save a ton of loot.” Some summit attendees expressed excitement at the emphasis on early childhood education and care. Jeanice Garfield, a member of the Springfield School Board, urged her colleagues to take the framework document back to their own communities and share it.

“In order to use it appropriately we need to be responsible for getting it out to our communities,” Garfield said. “I will take this back to my School Board, I will take it to my ecumenical council in Springfield, I will get this document to our Select Board. I’ll take it down to the chief of police. Every person in the community needs to have that ownership.” Work sessions throughout the day were intended to start the process of creating an action plan to achieve the framework’s goals, said Monica Hutt, director of policy and planning for the Agency of Human Services.

The action plan will continue to be developed over the next few months, she said.