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Gov. Northam’s spending plan highlights Democratic priorities ahead of taking over the General Assembly next month.

Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has started to roll out pieces of his first two-year budget, previewing Democratic priorities when the party takes control of the full General Assembly next month.

While he won’t officially present the budget to the legislature’s committees until Dec. 17, Northam has already announced two new significant funding measures this week. The first sets aside money to provide post-pregnancy healthcare and reducing the number of women who die after recently giving birth. The second adds funding that aims to transform the state’s early education system.

Northam, a pediatric neurologist, announced the $22 million in new spending aimed at reducing maternal mortality rates at a gathering with maternal and child health advocates on Monday. He shared that $12.8 million of the total package will go towards extending Medicaid coverage to include home visitor programs. Other measures included extending Medicaid to recent mothers from 60 days to a full year after they have given birth and $4 million for making long-term contraception more available.

Northam directly addressed the racial disparities in maternal death rates at the press conference, saying that it was “unacceptable” that black women die of pregnancy-related complications at twice the rate of white women. He said he hopes the funding will eliminate racial disparity in maternal death rates by 2025.

On Tuesday, Northam’s office issued a press release announcing was increased early education funds. Education that has been a focal point for Northam and his wife, First Lady Pamela Northam, who is a former middle school teacher. According to the press release, Northam’s proposed budget will dedicate $94.8 million in new funding to increase access to early education for at-risk three and four-year-olds, establish accountability standards, and ensure educators have adequate training. 

Virginia currently ranks in the bottom third of states when it comes to investment in early childhood education. As a result, almost half of Virginia children enter kindergarten without the necessary skills, according to the Virginia Kindergarten Readiness program.