The year ahead: Ambitions and promise

6919539028_71c540da4e_zIn my last post, I talked about the impact our current demonstration projects—Vermont Birth to Three, the Vermont Community Preschool Collaborative and Mobius—have had since the Permanent Fund began its work in 2000. This year, we will continue to focus on these demonstration projects and have set some ambitious, but necessary, goals so we can continue to make a difference for Vermont’s children and families. In this post I’d like to take a quick look at our priorities for 2014.

A focus on education

Those who know me have heard me talk about the link between poverty and education. I view education as the great equalizer—it is the key to eliminating the achievement gap between young children from lower-income families and their more well-off peers, to creating a path out of poverty, and developing a strong workforce and vital economy.
In this vein, we are focusing much of our resources on education in 2014 (and the coming years). In April we will launch an early childhood public awareness campaign, called Let’s Grow Kids. We have raised $1,050,000 to fund the first of this three-year effort. (I will write more about the campaign in a future blog post.)

Through this effort, we want to educate the general public about the significance of brain development in the early years and how it connects to our children’s well-being and our economic future. It is our hope that this focus on education will help create the public support and sense of urgency to create positive, lasting change for all of Vermont’s children.

Continuing our demonstration projects

During 2014, we will also continue to work through our other initiatives.

For Vermont Birth to Three, we have set a goal of achieving a 75% participation rate in STARS (Step Ahead Recognition System) among home-based providers. With 42% participating at the end of 2013, this is certainly an ambitious, but achievable, goal that will continue to build a stronger home-based provider network throughout Vermont.

The Vermont Community Preschool Collaborative team will continue to provide technical support and resources to communities to help bring quality preK to their 3- and 4-year-old children. Legislation (H.270) has been passed by the Vermont House to give parents (of 3- and 4-year-olds) the choice of where and what type of local preschool their child attends, regardless of the town or school district in which they live. This legislation requires that preK programs meet specific quality standards (either through NAEYC accreditation or Vermont’s STARS program). That means more Vermont 3- and 4-year-olds will have access to high quality programs. Seeing the Senate pass this legislation and watching the Governor sign it into law will give us all a reason to celebrate!

We will continue to support Vermont’s mentoring efforts through the statewide mentoring partnership, Mobius, as we believe every child can benefit by having a positive, non-parental, adult role model in his or her life. Today, Mobius supports about 2,500 adult-to-youth mentoring matches. But they believe there are at least 15,500 Vermont youth who are in need of a mentor. We want to continue to help them in their effort to close this gap.

We will also continue to be involved in the State’s plans to implement the $37 million Race to the Top grant monies as well as its closely related work with the early childhood community to establish priorities for the Early Childhood Action Plan. The Permanent Fund and our funding partners have helped support both of these efforts and we want to see the hard work continue.

Join our quest to make Vermont the best place to raise children

Our vision is a future for Vermont where all our children have an equal opportunity to realize their promise and potential. The likelihood of a child’s promise being realized is greatly diminished without a solid foundation, built from birth with the pillars of stimulating education, social-emotional support from caring adults, and basic physical needs. And yet Vermont lacks the early childhood infrastructure to support solid foundations for all our children.

It is the need to close this gap between what is now, and what could be for Vermont’s children that will continue to drive everything we do in 2014 and the years ahead.
Marion Wright Edelman, long-time director of the Children’s Defense Fund, once said, “It is not a matter of whether or not we can afford to make these investments. We cannot afford NOT to make them.”

We are at that point in Vermont. Vermont can be and should be the best place in the nation in which to raise children. Find out how you can join us.