In Vermont, 621 children under the age of three are enrolled in Early Head Start programs, and 514 3-year olds and 729 4-year olds are enrolled in Head Start programs. However, 71 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in a state-funded early learning program. This number has steadily increased over the course of a decade, rising 61 percent since 2003. Thanks to new legislation providing universal access to state-funded pre-K programs, every 3- and 4-year-old in the state will soon have the opportunity to reap the benefits of a high-quality early learning experience, regardless of socioeconomic status. Additionally, the average annual cost of center-based infant care in the state is $9,958.
- What the Governor is saying: Highlighting the fact that 87 percent of Vermont communities already offer pre-K programs to young children, Gov. Peter Shumlin hailed the state’s new universal preschool law as a way to ensure that every “3 or 4 year-old will have access to high-quality early education programs, and arrive at school better prepared to learn.” He understands that universal pre-K isn’t just great for children, but also for taxpayers, working families and employers. He said, “Investing in our youngest Vermonters is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do.. I am proud to live in a state that will provide every child an opportunity to arrive at kindergarten ready to learn.” To underscore this commitment to providing universal access and quality education, the governor recently released a framework for supporting early childhood programs in the state.
- What’s happening in the legislature: Gov. Shumlin signed Vermont’s universal pre-K bill into law on May 29, 2014, requiring communities to offer at least 10 hours per week of high-quality, publicly funded pre-K education for 35 weeks annually. Prior to that, the Senate passed the legislation in a close, but definitive vote that excluded a trigger to delay implementation. The House approved the legislation at the end of April 2014. To ensure the legislation advanced through both the House and Senate, policymakers, educators, business and children’s advocacy groups engaged in heated debate over the provisions, timing and funding of the bill. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders played an especially crucial role, urging state lawmakers to do more to support early childhood education.