Opinion: Universal pre-K worth the effort
The recent front-page story in the Burlington Free Press, “Gaps exist in pre-K background checks” (Nov. 1), focused on implementation challenges of Vermont’s universal pre-K law that provides 3, 4 and 5 year olds access to of 10 hours of voluntary, high-quality, pre-k programs. It’s been a bumpy road, but our kids are worth the effort and I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about what I see as the more important, big picture news: the fact that so many more young children in Vermont now have access to high-quality early care and learning.
Giving our children a strong start is essential and research shows that high-quality pre-K is an important part of the equation. The state took a step in the right direction when it made a commitment to support our youngest citizens by creating increased access to pre-K and, despite the unavoidable challenges that go hand-in-hand with transformative change, I’m happy to report that it’s working.
When the state crafted Act 166, legislators designated Building Bright Futures (BBF) as the organization responsible for monitoring access issues and troubleshooting any challenges with implementation. As BBF’s executive director, I’ve been privileged to witness communities coming together across the state with the common goal of ensuring all of Vermont’s children gain access to high-quality pre-K.
We know Act 166 has been successful in increasing access to pre-K when we look at the data for partial implementation, which is a good indicator of the direction we’re heading. The number of eligible 3 and 4-year-olds enrolled in publicly funded pre-K increased by over 1,000 children from the 2014-2015 school year to the 2015-2016 school year. Now that full implementation is underway we only expect those numbers to continue growing, meaning even more children will have access to quality early care and education.
Additionally, Vermont is a leader in that it wisely maintained and encouraged communities to provide high-quality pre-k through a mixed delivery system, which allows both private providers and public schools to offer pre-K. As a pillar of Act 166, it strengthens the benefit for children and families because it creates increased capacity and supports family needs. At the local level, there are inspiring examples of public schools and private community-based early childhood programs collaborating to give more kids access to pre-K. We need to meet the needs of all children. Offering a variety of high-quality learning environments is more conducive to meeting the diverse and individual needs of children during the most critical time of development.
Vermont took a historic and transformative step by passing Act 166. It’s important we continue working together so more kids and families can access high-quality pre-K as well as moving forward other initiatives to give Vermont’s children a strong start. After all, our collective work to create real and lasting change for Vermont’s children and their families is arguably the most important work we can do today for a better future.
If you are interested in contributing your voice to the implementation of Act 166 please join your local Building Bright Futures Regional Council (www.buildingbrightfutures.org) and on behalf of Vermont’s children let’s all commit to be part of the solution and give Act 166 a chance.
Sarah Squirrell lives in Waterbury Center.
by Sarah Squirrell