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Over Half Of Vermont's Kids Deemed Not Ready For Kindergarten

Fifty-one percent of Vermont kids do not have the social, physical, emotional, language, and cognitive skills they need to start school, according to statistics from the Agency of Education.

Too many of Vermont's children are not ready to start kindergarten. That’s one conclusion in a new report from Building Bright Futures, the child advocacy group responsible for governing the state’s childcare system. The findings come as legislation to mandate pre-kindergarten statewide has apparently stalled in the Vermont Senate. 

Vermont has earned kudos as a good place to raise children. But according to the report out this week, poverty is creeping into the middle class. Executive Director Julie Coffey cites data showing that the average Vermont household with two working parents and two children is stretched financially yet many do not qualify for childcare assistance.  And that has created a growing class of children who enter school at a disadvantage.

"You know, due to trauma or lack of nutrition or lack of stimulation they are not getting what they need and they are not getting a fair shot, and that sort of smacks of a civil rights issue," Coffey said.

Kindergarten teachers surveyed for the report last year said that 38 per cent of Vermont's children were not ready for kindergarten.  But Coffey says brand new statistics published by the Agency of Education just this week, after the report went to print, show that 51 percent do not have the social, physical, emotional, language, and cognitive skills they need to start school.

“For me, it is incredibly alarming, and it is bordering on a crisis,” Coffey said.

So she’s disappointed that the legislature has not approved a bill that would require public schools to offer at least 10 hours of early kindergarten per week. She says since most local districts have already started pre-school programs or partnered with early childcare providers, the price tag of the legislation is modest. But even if that bill does not pass, she says a $38 million federal grant designed to raise standards and improve training for early childhood educators will create better opportunities for children whose parents cannot afford high quality private day care.

"But change has to begin now and it means a paradigm shift for a lot of people who still don't really get how important early childhood is," Coffey said.  

According to a source cited in the Building Bright Futures report, without high quality early childhood education children are 50 percent more likely to be placed in special education--a costly alternative. The same research shows that 70 percent are more likely to be arrested than kids who get good schooling early in life.

On Friday, a group of business leaders and other child advocates is expected launch a major campaign to raise awareness of the challenges facing Vermont’s youngest children.

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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