Vermont Passes Law For Universal Early Education

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin announced on Wednesday that he has signed a bill that gives every 3 and 4 year old child in the state access to a minimum of 10 hours a week of free pre-K education.

According to an article written by Dave Gram of the Associated Press, Vermont Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe praised the signing as the foundation of a quality childhood.

“On average, children who attend intensive, high-quality preschool programs are less likely to repeat a grade, drop out of high school, commit crimes or be placed in special education,” she said. “They are likely to get better jobs and earn more money over the course of their work lives. We see universal preschool as integral to Vermont’s future economic vitality and to the ability of our youngest and most vulnerable to thrive in school and their communities.”

The law will add about $10 million in costs to the state education fund within the next seven years. However, its backers believe those costs will dramatically offset what would otherwise be heavy payments to special education and youth correction facilities.

“The children who aren’t ready to learn when they begin elementary school are very likely to challenge our resources throughout their school years and potentially throughout their lives,” Shumlin said.“We know that high-quality pre-kindergarten is far less expensive than remediation, retention, and special education later on.”

Eighty-seven percent of Vermont communities already offer pre-K programs to young children, but Shumlin said in his remarks that “this bill ensures that no matter where you live, your 3 or 4 year old will have access to high-quality early education programs, and arrive at school better prepared to learn.”

The governor signed the bill at the preschool at Stafford Technical Center in Rutland.

According to an article in The Burlington Free Press, there is a provision included in the bill that will allow said public funding to follow a child from one school district to another. For example, if a child is zoned to one district but goes to pre-K in another where his mother or father works, the money would come along.

That part of the bill met some opposition in the state legislature, according to Gram’s article:

 Rep. Alison Clarkson, D-Woodstock, said enrolling children in the local pre-school and elementary school is “a very important community bonding experience,” that encourages social contact between children and parents from both professional and working-class backgrounds.

“So many of my relationships in this town come from being parents together,” she said. “Parents who are doctors and parents who are garbage collectors meet.”

With a population of just over 600,000, Vermont is traditionally one of the most well-educated states in the US. In the 2013 US Census report, 91.3% of Vermont residents held a high school diploma, and 34.2% held at least a bachelor’s degree.