Legislative Review, Rep. David Sharpe: Early education upgrades pitched
Recent efforts to extend the opportunity for early education to all Vermont children culminated in Act 166. The law is a good start, however there were several problems with the initial legislation that need improvement.
What are the problems that the House Education Committee is trying to solve?
First, increasing the amount of money available to support the development and education of children age 3, 4 or 5 who are not enrolled in elementary school.
Second, the two agencies currently involved in the development and education of these eligible children have to work under different state and federal rules which causes conflicts in the oversight of the early childhood education programs.
And thirdly, the cliff in child care subsidies currently in place often prevents the parent(s) of young children from taking a job or advancing in their job because they would lose more funding in the subsidy than they would gain in the increased family income.
How did the Education Committee propose to address these three problems?
First, in order to increase funding for early childhood education we proposed to direct the entire proceeds from the state lottery (roughly $25 million) to the General Fund in order to nearly double the funds available. Currently the amount of state tax dollars spent on the voucher system in private pre-school programs is roughly $13 million. In addition, we propose to eliminate the vouchers for families with more than four times the median income (roughly $220,000), this will make additional resources available for hard working middle income families.
Second, the committee has proposed to separate the responsibilities of the two agencies now charged with oversight of pre-school programs. The proposal is to have the Agency of Education responsible for the public pre-school programs and the Agency of Human Services responsible for the oversight of the high-quality early childhood development programs. This is partly necessary because federal rules regarding early childhood development programs and preschool are somewhat different. An example of this difficulty the state has had, though not the only problem, is the regulation of fingerprint supported background checks.
Third, current information suggests that for families with income up to about 135 percent of the poverty level, the combination of the pre-school voucher and the child care subsidy is sufficient to pay for the high-quality programs we would like our young children to have. Above that, the subsidy drops off dramatically so it is not until a family can support a quality child development program from their family income that they can take advantage of early childhood education. This problem has resulted not in universal childhood development but rather essentially places an impossible hurdle for families with family income from 135 percent of poverty to roughly 400 percent of poverty. This does not support parents to take a job or seek a raise because they lose more in subsidy than they gain in income.
The Education Committee has proposed full funding up to 200 percent of poverty and a sliding scale up to a family income of $220,000. This will ensure that families that have been accessing high-quality early child development programs will be able to continue to do so and parents will be able to go back to work or seek a higher-paying position and still be able to send their child to a quality public or private program.
Rep. David Sharpe, D-Bristol, chair of the House Education Committee
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