Early learning could get boost in new Fairfax schools budget

FAIRFAX, Va. – The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors could boost spending on early childhood education next year despite a projected budget shortfall.

The board is considering a proposal to increase the early learning budget by $714,000.

Although Fairfax County is near the top of Forbes’ list of the wealthiest counties in the nation, the county is home to low and moderate income families who rely on government funding for preschool.

“This is not just a county of people who are all affluent and doing ok. There are a lot of kids that we’re leaving out and they need to be served,” says Mary Beth Testa, a Falls Church resident and a member of the group Voices for Virginia’s Children. The statewide advocacy group encourages funding for early education.

“We live in Fairfax because of what we get for living in Fairfax and we want this to be a strong county for all of us who live here,” Testa says.

At the Main Street Child Development Center, in the city of Fairfax, 72 preschoolers from low- and moderate-income families enjoy a 6-to-1 student-teacher ratio thanks to early childhood education funding.

The school’s director Carol Lieske says more children could take part in the program if the county approves full funding for early learning.

“We cannot survive with just tuition, many of our parents cannot afford our full tuition. It costs roughly $12,000 a year to provide services to one child,” Lieske says.

The Board of Supervisors is also getting an earful from taxpayers who insist that county government must live within its means. Some taxpayers are complaining about climbing property tax rates.

“Fairfax County Public Schools are looking for additional funding. There are budget shortfalls, as much as we’d like to have the money, there are competing interests,” concedes Lieske.

But Lieske argues that taxpayer dollars are well-spent on early childhood education.

“I think that the investment made in these young children is one that pays off in the future,” she says.

The county Board of Supervisors is expected to adopt the final budget on April 29.

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