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Universal Pre-K Becomes Law In Vermont

Charlotte Albright
Gov. Peter Shumlin signs the universal pre-K bill in Rutland on Wednesday.

By 2015 every school district in Vermont will be required to provide 10 hours of  high quality, free pre-kindergarten each week. Programs will available to all 3 and 4-year-olds whose families choose to enroll them.

Gov. Peter Shumlin signed the legislation into law Wednesday at the Stafford Technical Center in Rutland.

Shumlin brought plenty of pens, public officials, and childcare advocates to the playground of the tech center’s preschool program. As kids played quietly near the podium, he thanked key supporters for shepherding this bill through the legislature.

The governor  said the going wasn’t always easy, but in the end Vermont lawmakers did the right thing for young children.

“We know that all the research suggests that the development in the brain, 90 percent of it, happens by the time kids are five or six years old. So getting there when they’re three or four or earlier makes a huge difference.  What happens when we fail?” Shumlin asked.

One thing that could happen, he said, is that children could take the wrong road, and land — at great cost — in jail. Or they might miss out on job opportunities that need strong learners. All that, the governor said, ends up costing taxpayers more in the long run than it costs to provide good early experiences. Shumlin said pre-K will pay economic as well as educational dividends, and he invited a few children to watch him wield his pen.

“And it’s law!” he announced, to loud applause.

Then he climbed the stairs of a sliding board, and posed with the kids for photographers.

Over 80 percent of Vermont’s school districts are already offering some pre-K either in school or by partnering with private child care providers. That’s one reason the School Boards Association did not oppose it, even though Executive Director Steve Dale joked that it rarely supports bills with a price tag.

But in this case, Dale said, equity was an issue.

“That’s it’s not really acceptable that children in certain portions of our community or in communities that don’t provide full access, to deny those kids full access to that pre-K experience. So this bill is really a major milestone in that regard,” he said.

But all the speakers also agreed that many details of this measure have yet to be worked out. State funding will follow each enrolled child, for up to ten hours a week, to a school district. The district may then sub-contract with child centers or homes that have been given stars of approval by the non-profit agency that will administer this program. It’s called Building Bright Futures, and it’s posted a new childhood action plan on its website

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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