The shifting political landscape in Virginia has made national news over a variety of issues in the Commonwealth. But, one area of public policy that has been quietly making traction for years, and is now poised to be a breakout star of the current Virginia legislative session, is early education.
There are a number of bills and budget proposals being considered in the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate that could change the early childhood development and education system. One such issue is mixed-delivery pre-kindergarten. Mixed-delivery refers to the idea that publicly-funded early education programs do not need to exist only in public schools, but rather can be delivered through center-based and home-based programs as well.
Earlier this month, budgets approved by the Virginia Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee and the House Appropriations Committee maintained most of the Governor’s proposals for early childhood. In regard to funding for mixed-delivery grants to non-public school programs to offer pre-kindergarten, the House proposed $3 million of the original $10 million proposed for the grants, while the Senate proposed $8 million. This week the Virginia House and Senate appointed conferees to negotiate differences in the budget. Advocates argue that the House budget would provide 500 fewer mixed-delivery slots than the Senate budget.
From where we sit at The Women’s Foundation, the fact that the debate is over the amount of funding, versus the viability of mixed-delivery as an option, is pretty amazing. Here’s why:
There was a time when the debate around early education was whether or not it should be publicly funded at all, let alone how it should be delivered. With everything we’ve learned about early brain development and the impact of early education in the past few decades, it’s exciting to see the policy debates shift from “if” we should support early education to “how” can we support early education.