Local efforts to provide wider access to public and private early childhood classrooms could get a boost from state coffers over the next two years now that the Virginia General Assembly has passed a bill providing $3 million in new grant funding for mixed-delivery preschools.
The bill, patroned by Del. Tag Greason, R-Potomac Falls, makes $1.5 million available in each year of the state’s biennial budget.
The money would be divided into six competitive two-year grants, state documents show.
That funding could come in handy for Charlottesville and Albemarle, said Erika Viccellio, executive vice president of the United Way-Thomas Jefferson Area and chairwoman of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Early Education Task Force.
“It looks like it will align well with what we already have underway here, so I think the task force will look seriously at it,” she said. “We have positioned ourselves well to be competitive for what they are trying to do.”
Local pre-K programs received a boost earlier this year when the city and county received grants worth a combined $180,000 from the Virginia Preschool Initiative. That money was used recently to place 25 4-year-olds in private preschool programs.
If either locality were to be awarded money from the new state program, it likely would be used partly to expand capacity and partly to find ways to increase quality in public and private preschools.
“We would want to find ways to place more children, but, equally important, we are looking at ways to increase quality,” Viccellio said.
If the legislation is signed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the grant program would be administered by the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation. The foundation would issue a request for proposals if the bill is signed, said Karin Bowles, the foundation’s director of strategy.
“Very specific details are not available at this point,” she said. “At the macro level, this grant and these funds are an opportunity to really be innovative and entrepreneurial with preschool delivery. … We want to keep this flexible.”
The bill requires grant recipients to provide annual progress reports to the state and it gives priority to applicants that use incentives to get people to participate in preschool programs, compare classroom outcomes among teachers and use tests to gauge students’ success.
Assessments will be key to making sure preschools focus on quality as much as simple expansion, said Ann McAndrew, the Albemarle school division’s Bright Stars coordinator.
“I support the assessment requirements,” she said. “My sense of this is that any place that is accepting money to deliver a program to kids should have proof that, in fact, they are delivering something that is of value.”
As the public-private model expands, McAndrew said, localities will need to sharpen their focus on the quality of instruction.
“As that delivery system becomes more scattered, our challenge is really going to be to put together systems that make sure that what we’re doing is still of high quality,” she said.
The Early Education Task Force previously has estimated that there are between 250 and 500 at-risk 3- and 4-year-old children in Charlottesville and Albemarle who do not have access to pre-K programs.
The governor’s office has until April 10 to act on the legislation.