Bill would increase early education spending

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(Host) According to a new report, state spending on early education programs is “woefully inadequate” given the importance of brain development in young children. The head of the Senate Education committee has a bill that addresses these concerns.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The study, which was conducted by the Child and Family Policy Center, examined spending levels for early education programs in Vermont and 11 other states. The report found that while 85 percent of a child’s core brain structure is developed by the age of 5, less than five percent of public education expenditures are targeted to this age group.

Beth Burgess is a spokesperson for the Vermont Children’s Forum:

(Burgess) “We also looked at recent research on brain studies that show that brain growth is especially rapid. The most rapid time is from age 0 to 5 and the equivalent amount of commitment through funding for that age group is lacking.”

(Kinzel) Last week, the Senate Education committee gave its approval to legislation that addresses many of the report’s concerns.

Committee Chairman Jim Condos says the goal of the bill is make it possible for any child to enroll in an early education program. Under this proposal, the state would make money available through Act 60 to help finance this initiative.

Condos estimates that the new plan will cost roughly $24 million over a six-year period:

(Condos) “This provides for universal access. This is no mandate here that any kid has to go to any program. If a parent doesn’t want to send his kid to school until he’s in kindergarten that’s perfectly fine with them. What this does is provide a mechanism to elevate the quality and affordability of early education at the young level – 3 and 4 years old.”

(Kinzel) Although the bill does have a significant price tag, Condos thinks it will save the state money in the long term.

(Condos) “We have a situation right now in Vermont where one out of seven of our Vermont male youth between the ages of 18 and 22 are under supervision of Corrections. We already know that 95 percent of the ones that are incarcerated can’t read or are struggling to read and that they have not graduated from high school. That is part of the situation and if we can correct that at the early ages then we will save ourselves a lot of money later in life.”

(Kinzel) The legislation is now being reviewed by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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