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Editorial: Vermont bucks 'popular' politics to invest in its kids

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Posted on December 15, 2014 |
By Angelo S. Lynn



It’s popular today to be critical of politicians in Washington, D.C., and in Montpelier. It’s popular to be against government spending and for tax cuts. It’s also popular to be against spending more on education — both at the state level and federal.

But what’s popular is not always smart.

What’s smart is to raise and spend money in ways that make our society stronger, enrich the individual and reduce the need for spending more on the back end.

Over the past few years, Gov. Peter Shumlin has been ahead of the curve on moving the state forward on early education. This week the state has received a $7.3 million grant in what is expected to be a $33.4 million, four-year federal grant for pre-kindergarten programs at Vermont’s public schools and Head Start agencies. It’s a significant amount of money awarded only to those states that took the initiative to set up programs that qualified for the federal funding.

Vermont got an even bigger boost last year when it received a $37 million federal grant to move its programs forward. The state’s congressional delegation, including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), moved Vermont’s application forward on Capitol Hill. In particular, Sen. Sanders, a member of the Senate education committee, worked with the U.S. Department of Education, the congressional delegation and the Shumlin administration to secure the funding to operate the pre-K program.

 “At a time when working families are struggling to find quality and affordable child care, this grant is a big boost for Vermont,” Sanders said. “The grant will help Vermont lead the nation in early-childhood education as we better prepare our kids for school and the challenges and opportunities of life.”

Leahy noted that the state understands “the importance of early-childhood education and how effective it can be in helping children break the cycle of poverty.”

The issue isn’t new. The initiative could have been done under previous presidents or governors, but it was not.

It is one of thousands of choices and policy directions that occur in our nation’s capital, and in our state capitals, under each new administration. It is an issue that helps define the different priorities between political parties. From our perspective, this is a smart use of funds now to prevent all the ills that befall society when an under-educated teenager or adult struggles to make ends meet.

In the first year of this program, Vermont was one of 18 states that qualified for a grant, and just one of 13 that qualified for expansion grants this year. That means 32 states are not taking similar initiatives for their youngest residents and future leaders.

 “Vermont is one of the top states in America when it comes to early childhood education…” Shumlin said. “We know that investments in our youngest children pay huge dividends in their ability to achieve in school and succeed in life.”

It’s not every state’s cup of tea, but Vermonters should at the very least recognize that our state leaders are investing in our collective future. Not every state is. Give them credit for that, and stand tall when you do it.

Angelo S. Lynn

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