Education News

Universal childcare is here

In a high-quality preschool classroom, you might see a teacher kneeling on the floor to listen to a child’s story from their weekend or helping two children negotiate over sharing a toy. Children busily put their items in their cubbies, independently wash their hands, and sign up for a classroom job–carefully finding or printing the letters in their name. A family stops to talk with the teacher on their way out the door and has a brief conversation that will be picked up at a conference next week. Perhaps a teacher notices that many children are building barns for their animals in the block corner and chooses a book about farm animals for morning circle and adds corn and toy tractors to the sensory table to extend the play. Children excitedly chatter to one another over a shared meal and get their coats on to go outside. A high-quality preschool is building the skills that children need throughout their lives: communication and physical skills; social-emotional skills like taking turns, coping with strong emotions, and negotiating with friends; developing independence with classroom routines and self-care; learning about the world; and early reading and math skills. Communities that invest in early childhood see the payoff in later years academically and socially. 

Universal PreK (UPreK) through Act 166 is designed to help all Vermont families access high-quality preschool. Through UPreK, public school district funding pays preschool tuition for 10 hours/week, 35 weeks/year at many qualified community preschools. This makes those 10 hours/week FREE to all preschool families and expands the number of children who can access high quality preschool. 

This school year, the three primary Addison County school districts — Addison Central SD, Addison Northwest SD and Mount Abraham USD — are serving a total of about 425 preschoolers aged 3-5 (not enrolled in kindergarten). Over 300 children, or roughly 76%, are enrolled in the UPreK program in 36 community partner sites around our region (2 registered homes and 34 center-based preschool programs). These children are enrolled as public school students for those 10 hours and included in pupil census counts in local district budgets.

One benefit to this mixed delivery system for preschool is that families have some choice in preschool schedule, location and philosophy. For example, working families may need full-time care or a location convenient to their workplace. Some children may benefit from the specific supports offered by local programs including free meals or therapeutic care. Families may prefer a program that has smaller groupings or more outside time. Having family choice in preschool programming means fewer transitions for children needing full-time care and more flexibility in meeting child and family needs. With limited school capacity and hours, UPreK also increases access to high-quality programs.

All preschool programs must meet certain quality standards to partner with school districts, including having a teacher with a Vermont endorsement in Early Childhood Education (ECE) or Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE); aligning their curriculum with Vermont Early Learning Standards (VELS); providing inclusive accommodations and supports for all children; and having 3 STARS or higher in Vermont’s Quality Rating Scale. In addition, programs agree to conduct child progress assessments and hold twice yearly parent-teacher conferences. Local data on child progress shows that our quality preschool programs — public and private — are making a positive difference in children’s development and learning.

Families who are interested in prequalified community preschools first enroll with the preschool program and then complete enrollment paperwork for tuition funding. Some families are also eligible for additional child care tuition assistance though the Child Care Financial Assistance Program. 

For more information about Universal PreK, including how to choose a quality preschool program, locate a local prequalified partner program, or enroll in UPreK please visit: https://mbaker61.wixsite.com/uprek.

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