Universal, quality pre-K in Vermont is within our reach

Ask any kindergarten teacher how they can tell which children in their class have been to a pre-K program and which haven’t, and you’ll hear some common responses. They will mention behaviors like being able to separate easily from mom or dad, transitioning easily from one activity to the next, sitting quietly to listen to a story, sharing with their fellow classmates and asking when they need help with something.

PreK_children2_mixed-largeThese are basic life and social skills that make the transition into public school so much easier for children,” says Lori Elwell, K-1 teacher of North Bennington Graded School. “When they’ve been in pre-K they are so much more at ease, they know routines, they know how to play with others…you can tell if they’ve worked on these things.

In the past

Elwell can remember a time when only a few children went to pre-K before they entered kindergarten. Then, what is now kindergarten-level learning was replaced with teachers spending time introducing and teaching these basic skills which are so essential for success in a classroom learning environment. That’s not the case any more, at least not in North Bennington and in other Vermont school districts that have implemented publicly funded pre-K.

Why it matters

As an increasing amount of research highlights the link between quality early education and positive outcomes, more and more states are paving the way to make quality pre-K programs accessible to all children. Approximately 70% of Vermont’s 13,000 preschool-aged children spend some portion of their day in childcare. Research has shown that those children who spend time in quality pre-K programs come to school better prepared emotionally, socially, physically and cognitively than their peers. Over the long-term this translates into savings for taxpayers, better educated students, a motivated workforce and vibrant communities.

Vermont’s pre-K program

In 2007, the Vermont Legislature passed Act 62, a complex educational law that allows school districts to voluntarily establish partnerships with qualifying childcare providers offering pre-K programs. To qualify, childcare providers must meet certain criteria:

  • they must offer a curriculum based on State early learning standards;
  • have earned at least four stars in the Step Ahead Recognition System (STARS, a quality rating system for Vermont childcare centers or providers);
  • have a licensed teacher on staff (or have a contract with a licensed teacher); and,
  • perform twice yearly assessments on their preschool-aged children.

Under the law, families with children enrolled in qualified pre-school programs are eligible to receive financial support for up to 10 hours per week of pre-K for their three-or four-year-old child.

The Vermont Community Preschool Collaborative

The Vermont Community Preschool Collaborative (VCPC) provides two years of start-up funding and technical assistance to help school districts establish partnerships with high quality childcare providers, a prerequisite for receiving state funding. VCPC is the result of state and community leaders, philanthropists, early childhood experts and other funders coming together to focus on early education programming: a unique public-private venture that’s making a difference for many Vermont youngsters.

VCPC is the first of three initiatives established by the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children that helps provide a seamless continuum of support for children, starting at birth and bridging into the public schools.

The opportunity and progress achieved

We saw an opportunity to gather the community of people needed to make this happen, and we are delighted to see VCPC come to life across the state. Our vision is to make quality pre-K programming accessible to all Vermont three- and four-year-olds. With more than 60% of our 4-year-olds enrolled in a quality pre-K program, this goal is now within reach.

Since the passage of Act 62 and VCPC’s inception, 41 school districts have endorsed pre-K programs and nearly 5,500 Vermont children are now enrolled.

“Publicly funded pre-K has allowed some children to be able to go to pre-school that wouldn’t be able to afford it,” said Lori Elwell. “All of these children come into kindergarten with a much broader knowledge and experience base…It makes a huge difference to the children and to their overall educational experience.”