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Report: Virginia Needs to Do Better on Early Education

Virginia is not doing a good job in providing quality preschool, according to a new report. (NIEER)
Virginia is not doing a good job in providing quality preschool, according to a new report. (NIEER)
May 13, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. - Virginia isn't doing a good job on early education, according to a new report that says the state continues to lose ground, both in terms of access and funding.

Steve Barnett, director for the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, is one of the authors of "The State of Preschool 2015."

He says Virginia's early ed funding was cut starting in the recession and is still falling. As a result, Barnett says fewer than one in five state preschoolers can get into a program.

"There's a wall - the kindergarten door," says Barnett. "On one side of it, every child's entitled. On the other - well, it's entirely discretionary. And unfortunately, that's where the biggest inequalities are."

In a time of tight budgets, many state lawmakers say they have to make tough choices. Barnett agrees it can be hard to find the resources for good preschool. But he says Virginia already ranks in the lower half of states, and its ranking continues to erode.

In the last budget, Gov. Terry McAuliffe increased school funding, but that was largely for public K-through-12 education.

Barnett says building a quality workforce and cutting achievement gaps has to start with three and four year olds.

He says higher-income families have long recognized the wisdom of investing there - but often, lower-income children need early education even more.

"High-quality preschool programs can virtually close the achievement gap in reading for African-American and Hispanic children," he says.

Barnett says considering 50 years of research that backs up the importance of a good preschool, it becomes a matter of 'pay for it now, or pay for it later.'

"Raise achievement levels throughout the school years," says Barnett. "Decrease high-school dropout. Decrease crime and delinquency. Increase productivity and earnings. Decrease health problems."

Barnett says the research also shows every child in a community does better when they all have access to preschool programs, so by elementary school, teachers don't have to spend as much time helping the students who are behind catch up.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA