Gov. Glenn Youngkin calls for a “bigger investment.”
It’s not every day you see a politician criticizing their own party, but that’s exactly what happened when business-man-turned-governor Glenn Youngkin recently expressed his opinion on a portion of the commonwealth’s proposed budget.
While the General Assembly reconvened in April to further budget negotiations, there still isn’t an agreement over a month later. One point of contention is over early childhood education. Richmond’s WRIC-ABC 8 reported that following a tour and proclamation signing in Chester earlier this month, Youngkin stated that he’s committed to a “bigger investment” in getting Virginia’s children kindergarten-ready.
Youngkin’s remarks came on the heels of a budget summary published by The Commonwealth Institute, which shows the differences proposed by the Republican-led House of Delegates and Democrat-led Senate. The Senate’s proposal would fund early childhood and pre-K programs, expand access to the Virginia Preschool Initiative, and work toward recruiting and retaining educators at a total sum of $44.3 million. The House’s $6 million proposal would fund early childhood and pre-K programs, but would fall short of including additional funds for other programs and retention strategies.
Democrats have long championed strides in early childhood education. Last year, it was part of President Joe Biden’s proposed Build Back Better Act, which included universal preschool, investments in child care, an extension of the expanded Child Tax Credit, and more.
The goal of expanding child care was also a major part of Sen. Jennifer McClellan’s (D-VA) campaign platform when she ran for governor in 2021, though she did not win her party’s nomination. At the time, she proposed the implementation of universal childcare and early childhood education for every family in Virginia with a child age four and under. The plan aimed to invest $4 billion in the state’s early childhood system and would’ve made child care a public necessity.
“We have too many kids that aren’t kindergarten-ready when they walk into kindergarten. And so from both an economic perspective and an educational perspective, it is so foundational that it has to be the center of any economic recovery or any education plan,” McClellan said to Dogwood prior to the 2021 Democratic primary.
The commonwealth has quite the path ahead to meet school-readiness goals, according to a Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission report, which found there was a dip in enrollment in publicly-supported early childhood care and education programs during the pandemic.
Head Start enrollment was down 30% for the 2020-2021 school year, down 6% for the Virginia Preschool Initiative, and down 19% for overall preschool enrollment. Participation in child care subsidies dropped to a low of approximately 14,500 children in January 2021, a drop of 43% from before COVID-19. The report cautioned that the decrease could impact school-readiness in years to come.
As the House and Senate keep budget negotiations afloat, school divisions across the commonwealth continue to struggle to properly plan for the financial obligations of the upcoming school year, both in early childhood education and beyond.