Thanks to a law passed in 2014, Vermont is breaking one of preschool’s glass ceilings. It’s the first state in the country to require communities to offer 10 hours a week of free, high-quality preschool to all of its 3- and 4-year-olds for 35 weeks a year.
“Universal Pre-K is a win for children, taxpayers, working families, and employers,” Vermont’s Governor Peter Shumlin said earlier this summer. “We all know that preparing children to enter elementary school ready to learn is one of the best ways [to] set up our next generation for success and avoid costly interventions later in life.”
“Shumlin signed the law in 2014 and it went into effect July 1, but some communities implemented programs early. The programs include those operated by community programs, public schools, private early education and care programs and Head Start,” according to the Burlington Free Press.
“The free care is still optional for families. That is, though it must be offered, attendance is not mandatory,” Education Week reports. “… 10 free hours of care can make a big difference to the monthly budget, even for middle class families. The average weekly cost of child care for a 3- or 4-year-old in a licensed center in Vermont was $192, according to The Vermont Department for Children and Families.”
While ten hours of preschool per week isn’t a lot, it is an important start that is particularly helpful for working parents. As the Burlington Free Press explains:
“Adam Charlton and his wife wanted their then-4-year-old son, Oliver, to be in a school-like environment before he entered kindergarten. But, they said they couldn’t have afforded it without the extra help.”
“ ‘He learned a lot,’ Charlton said. ‘It’s a great program and I’m super glad the state decided to pass that law. It’s definitely helpful.’
“The office of Gov. Peter Shumlin says more than 70 percent of Vermont children under age 6 have working parents…”
Shumlin also says his state is looking to the future.
“Now that we have made access universal, we need to ensure all Vermonters, regardless of income, are benefitting from the new law. To do this, I have challenged my Agencies to work hard to identify ways to ensure all Vermonters are utilizing this important law, especially those low-income Vermonters who too often fall through the cracks.”
We look forward to seeing how Vermont grows as it promotes high quality, ready access, and extensive outreach to all of its young children.