Recommendation Three

Utilizing existing resources, increase access for at-risk four-year-olds to the Virginia Preschool Initiative.

In 1996, the Commonwealth of Virginia established a state prekindergarten program – the Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) – to provide high quality early learning experiences to at-risk four-year-olds. In 2012, VPI programs enrolled more than 16,000 children, up from 11,237 in 2006.106 However, despite bipartisan support and full funding, almost one-third of the children who could benefit from VPI are not served through this program.

In 2011/12, the General Assembly allocated funds for 23,443 VPI full-day slots in 127 of Virginia’s 136 localities. Virginia’s localities used 16,301 of these slots, leaving more than 30% of the available slots unused. The result is that the potential reach of VPI – and the benefits that children, families, and the Commonwealth receive from participating – is not realized. Only 63 Virginia localities use all of their available slots. In a full 14 localities, all or nearly all of the available slots go unused, which accounts for nearly 25% of the unused slots. Barriers reported by local leaders include difficulty or inability to meet the required local match; insufficient space in school facilities; challenges addressing teacher requirements in non-school settings; and small numbers of eligible children, which limit the cost-effectiveness of implementing VPI. Nonetheless, there remain communities with waiting lists for VPI, and children and families who would benefit from programs.

These challenges can be addressed both through carefully-implemented community-level strategies and through state-level policy and procedure refinements.

Potential policy considerations include:

VPI is a proven program improving outcomes for at-risk children. VPI participation is associated with reduced costs for early reading intervention and early grade repetition, an important cost savings for local school systems. Many communities and school divisions would benefit from refined legislative and state agency policies that achieve a balance between maintaining program excellence and easing access for children in communities across the Commonwealth. The state should find a way to leverage the funds allocated to further support Virginia’s preschool-aged children.

PDF version of official printed report.

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