Last month the Governor signed H.270, an Act Relating to Universal Prekindergarten, into law. As an early and active supporter of this legislation, the Vermont Early Childhood Alliance celebrates the passage of this historic legislation that will ensure access for all of Vermont's three- and four-, and eligible five-year-old children to high quality prekindergarten.
H. 270 builds upon legislation passed in 2007 which allowed school districts to provide publicly funded prekindergarten for age-eligible children, either through a public school or private provider. In 2012, the Agency of Education estimated that just 36% of age-eligible children participated in publicly funded prekindergarten statewide. Currently, 38 towns in Vermont do not offer prekindergarten and many towns have low participation rates.
H. 270 will increase participation and access by expanding the availability of quality prekindergarten education to all families who choose to enroll their age-eligible children. Starting with the 2015-16 school year, school districts will provide or pay for at least 10 hours per week of prekindergarten education for 35 weeks a year for all three-, four- and five-year-old children who are not enrolled in kindergarten in their district and whose parents enroll them in a prequalified program.
Why is prekindergarten important? High quality prekindergarten education helps children reach their full potential. It leads to higher high school graduation rates, for example. Prekindergarten helps our kids get started on the right foot and avoid problems that end up costing all of us. Studies show that for every $1 invested in prekindergarten, we save $8 in future public costs for things like substance abuse treatment and corrections.
Prekindergarten helps kids be ready to make the most of kindergarten. In Springfield, for example, the percentage of incoming students considered to be well-prepared for kindergarten increased from 24% in 2007 to 60% in 2011, which correlates with when the school district started offering publicly funded prekindergarten.
Prekindergarten offers skill development and support when kids need it most. Many parents already know that prekindergarten is good for their kids, and now science is showing that too. Studies show that 90% of a child's brain is developed by age five, before a child enters kindergarten. Giving children access to high quality early education lays the foundation for future learning, skill-building, and social-emotional development. We help our children build strong brains and the best possible future by giving them access to quality early experiences.
And perhaps just as important, kids love prekindergarten. I know that first-hand because my five-year-old son loves going to our local elementary school three days a week. He gets to be with the big kids, learn about numbers and letters, and start to build skills that will help him succeed when he enters kindergarten this fall. He can't wait to get started.
H. 270 will ensure that all young children in Vermont can access these kinds of high quality early experiences. We are fortunate that Gov. Shumlin and the legislature are making significant investments in improving the early childhood system, from birth through prekindergarten. These investments will have a positive impact on the rest of a child's life and on the health and success of the whole community now and into the future.
On behalf of the members of the Vermont Early Childhood Alliance, I would like to thank the administration, the Governor, the legislature, and all of the people who contacted their legislators to declare their support for universal prekindergarten in Vermont. And the kids thank you too.
Matt Levin is the incoming executive director of the Vermont Early Childhood Alliance. He writes from Berlin.