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Vermont Gets High Marks In Early Education Progress Report

Charlotte Albright
Rachel Hunter encourages young children to don costumes during story hour at her home-based child care program in Springfield.

Vermont ranks fourth highest in the nation on a new comprehensive report card tracking progress states are making to provide early education.  The report card comes each year from Education Week magazine. Vermont racked up 83 out of a possible 100 points, earning a "B." The national average was "C."

The state’s overall score includes a “B” for “School Finance,” topping the list for per-pupil spending on early education. Vermont spends $18,882. (Utah, at the bottom of the list, spends only $6,688.)  Vermont’s student performance earns a “C-plus” for “K-12 Achievement.” When it comes to estimating the “Chance for Career Success,” including work opportunities over a student’s lifetime, Vermont gets a "B."

That’s encouraging news for early education advocates. But the report also points to a troubling sign. Currently, whether a Vermont child has access to high quality pre-school depends greatly on income. That helps put Vermont 48th in Education Week’s “Early Education Index,” which grades the states based on federal data across eight critical indicators.

In that index, Vermont gets only a "D." Holly Yettick, director of research for Education Week, says its low score reflects what she calls Vermont’s “poverty gap.” Low income children, she says, are much less likely to receive pre-school education than their peers.

“That difference in participation is 29.3 percent,” Yettick said. That’s the largest variation in the nation, according to the report. “It’s a big gap,” Yettick said, “and it grew more in Vermont than in any other state over the past five years.”

But Yettick adds that if Vermont equitably implements its new law requiring all school districts to offer 10 hours of pre-school beginning in 2016, that equity gap is likely to narrow.

Vermont’s scores, overall, generally beat the national average. But even though it’s among a handful of states recognized in the early education report for making strides, the magazine’s editorial team says there is much work to be done to ensure that all young children arrive at school prepared to succeed.

“No state really aces the exam on early childhood education,” said Christopher B. Swanson, vice president of Editorial Projects in Education, the nonprofit organization that publishes Education Week. “In fact, we find very inconsistent performance across early childhood indicators, with the majority of states ranking in the top 10 for some areas but in the bottom 10 for others. This speaks to the complexity of early education’s patchwork of laws, institutions, and programs spanning the public and private sectors.”