Senate passes early education bill

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(Host) The Senate has given its preliminary approval to legislation that significantly expands access to early education programs throughout the state.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The proposal makes state funds available, through Act 60, to any family that wants to send a child to an accredited early education facility. It also encourages providers and local school districts to collaborate on early education initiatives.

Backers of the plan expect demand for the program will grow steadily over the next five years at a total cost of roughly $25 million. Education Chairman Jim Condos urged his colleagues to support the measure:

(Condos) “It’s designed to provide accountability, provide standards – good standards – and excellent quality for kids. It’s about accessibility, it’s about affordability, it’s about quality, it’s about investing in our youth for early education because it’s critically important.”

(Kinzel) Even though the bill calls for an appropriation of an additional $5 million in each of the next five years, Condos says it should be viewed as a cost containment measure:

(Condos) “It’s about saving money on special ed. It’s about saving money in human services and Corrections. This year’s proposed budget for Corrections is about $90-plus million. We spend a total for VSAC, UVM, and the Vermont State Colleges approximately $75 million. We are spending more money for Corrections than we are for higher education. Our priorities are mixed up.”

(Kinzel) The only real debate over the bill came over an amendment proposed by Rutland Senator Kevin Mullin. It was a plan to allow parents to send their children to any early education provider in the state:

(Mullin) “Because we know that if a mom or dad works in a certain location that it might be important for their child to be closer to where they’re spending their time during the day at work. So that if a child becomes sick or for some other reason that they go could there quickly or that they could drop the child on their way to work.”

(Kinzel) Senator Condos opposed this “school choice approach” to early education because he said it was important for providers to work with local school districts on the development of new programs:

(Condos) “It would undermine the intent of the bill, which quite frankly where we’re trying to expand early education throughout the state. And if you can just bypass the local district they have no incentive to enter the fray and therefore they could stay out of the process a little bit longer.”

(Kinzel) The full Senate rejected the Mullin amendment by a vote of 22 to 6 and then passed the overall bill on a strong voice vote. The measure will come up final approval in the Senate on Tuesday.

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

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