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Vermont Gets More Federal Money For Preschool

vpr-Rachel_Hunter_encourages_kids_to_try_on_costumes_at_her_child_care_home_in_Springfield.jpg
Charlotte Albright
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Rachel Hunter, who runs a child care center in Springfield, is certified to provide early education for the Springfield schools.

Vermont's road to universal preschool got smoother with fresh federal assistance announced Wednesday. Over the next four years, the $33 million grant will help public schools partner with private childcare centers and Head Start programs to raise standards and train teachers.  

Vermont has been on a roll when it comes to federal support for preschool. First there was a $37 million “Race To The Top” grant, which establishes a framework for a state-wide preschool program. Now comes a grant almost that big to help districts fill that framework, hiring and training teachers and expanding pre-K hours.

Julie Coffey helped write the grant, but even she was surprised to get it.  

“I couldn’t imagine that we would be this lucky twice,” she said.

Coffey is the Director of Building Bright Futures, an advocacy group teaming up with the state to garner support for early education. She says the new grant — about $7 million this year — does not cover the first 10 hours of preschool that all districts will have to offer starting in 2016.

“But [it will help pay for preschool] over and beyond that 10 hours and toward professional development,” she said.

Coffey says the latest grant will help districts partner with private child care centers and Head Start programs to offer more than two hours a day of high quality early education. It will also support training child care providers and raising their sub-standard pay. Vermont Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe says the biggest aim is to increase full-day access for low-income kids at a time when some schools are trying to conform to the new universal pre-K law, called Act 166.

“Budgets are tight and it’s going to take a lot of ingenuity and creativity to figure out how to do this in a high quality way for our kids, but I am really excited that between Act 166 and things like this grant we will be able to push our kids and our schools past the finish line,” Holcombe said.

The starting line has just been pushed forward by a year to give districts more time to budget. So this grant, preschool advocates say, couldn’t come at a better time. Especially since a White House report released this week shows that the costs of subsidizing preschool are outweighed by the benefits of a better educated, more highly paid workforce.

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