Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam expects record enrollment for the state’s preschool programs this fall thanks to a deluge of funding toward that effort.
Over $150 million has been authorized for the Virginia Preschool Initiative and Mixed Delivery in fiscal year 2022, which means the state will be serving 25,000 three- and four-year-olds this upcoming school year, according to a news release from the governor’s office.
Northam’s office said that funding total is a nearly $61 million increase from the previous school year and more than doubles the investment made during fiscal year 2018.
“Access to high quality early learning is critical for children’s development, and the Commonwealth’s investment in early childhood education is a major reason Virginia was named the best state to do business for the second year in a row,” said Northam in a statement.
“Increasing school readiness is more important than ever as we recover from the pandemic, and this historic commitment puts us one step closer to offering a great start for all Virginia children.”
Of those 25,000 preschoolers, the governor’s office said more than 23,600 students across 126 school divisions are projected to be served by Virginia Preschool Initiative classrooms come this fall. Before the pandemic, the program only served 18,000 children in 124 divisions.
The release said that roughly 1,600 3-year-olds across 37 school divisions will be served by the initiative too.
And about 1,500 preschool-age children will be served by the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation’s Mixed Delivery Grant Program across 45 localities.
It’s a massive jump from the 239 children served in nine localities during the 2020-2021 school year.
“We know that 90 percent of a child’s brain development occurs before the age of five, so high quality early childhood education programs are a key strategy to increasing student achievement from kindergarten to after graduation,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane.
“A unified approach across all early learning settings is more important than ever as we emerge from the pandemic and equip the next generation of students to succeed in the 21st century workforce.”
The governor’s office said that federally funded early childhood programs are also now open to more families than before.
Families with young children who are earning up to 85% of the state median income are temporarily eligible for Virginia’s Child Care Subsidy Program.
The program serves more than 20,000 children, which is 94% of its pre-pandemic total, per the release.
Federal Head Start and Early Head Start Programs are funded to serve about 14,500 children this school year.
All sites are working toward full in-person enrollment by Jan. 1, 2022.