Albemarle County’s early childhood education forecast just became a little brighter.
On Wednesday, the Board of Supervisors unanimously endorsed a plan drafted by the Charlottesville-Albemarle Early Education Task Force aimed at serving between 250 and 350 of the area’s most at-risk 4-year-olds who currently receive no preschool.
The task force is made up of local school, government and community leaders.
“It’s a noble effort that seems consistent with the strategic plan adopted by this board, and one that I’m happy to bring forward on behalf of staff,” said Doug Walker, assistant county executive.
However, Walker said, some due diligence still remains to be done. Items that need to be addressed include specifying the exact number of children who need to be served, developing a list of creative new ideas and examining funding estimates for new programming.
“And we’ll use that as a springboard to talk about good ideas,” Walker said. “Both public-sector ideas and private-sector ideas.”
Despite the road ahead, Supervisor Diantha McKeel applauded the day’s progress.
“We have a goal, we’re working towards doing something and we’re not just talking about it, because this community has talked about this for a long time,” McKeel said.
Many of the supervisors’ comments addressed public-private partnerships.
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek pointed to the school division’s growing capacity constraints, and said partnering with private providers could serve more students. For example, Mallek said Albemarle is receiving numerous permit requests for churches to add additional preschool classrooms.
“I think having the ability to go along and pay whatever the tuition would be in one of these private or outside-the-system schools [is important],” Mallek said, noting that the aim of any new relationships should focus on benefitting the community, not making money for a private provider.
Currently, Albemarle works with private preschool providers who have space or reserve space for at-risk children. One obstacle to this approach has been that the amount of money Albemarle obtains per child from the Virginia Preschool Initiative — a state mechanism for funding preschool students unserved by Head Start — is generally less than tuition at a private provider.
Supervisor Ken Boyd praised the effort, and suggested adding an economic development representative to the task force.
“I think we can solve this problem if we can provide good career-ladder jobs for people so that they don’t fall into this circumstance, and they can use private-sector [providers] that are available,” Boyd said.
McKeel suggested that a representative from one of the University of Virginia’s child care facilities be invited to join the task force, while Supervisor Liz Palmer said a Head Start representative also would be appropriate.
The task force’s plan calls for a 25 percent reduction in the total number of unserved students within the first year.
Mike Chinn, president of SNL Financial and chairman of the United Way-Thomas Jefferson Area’s School Readiness Impact Team, said that specificity gives an important measure for the community’s progress.
McKeel supported its inclusion.
“Because what you say and what is written down gets action, and that is really good,” she said.
In the near term, the task force will continue to hold monthly planning meetings, and will ultimately return to the supervisors with suggestions.
Until then, Supervisor Jane Dittmar said she’s “absolutely thrilled.”
“The return [is great] not only for these little ones, but for their families, the schools and then, eventually, for society as a whole.”