Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Vermont is pressing ahead on its preschool plans.

Back in 2014, then-Governor Peter Shumlin signed a bill into a law that offered 10 hours a week of high-quality preschool programs to the state’s 3- and 4-year-olds. By 2016, more and more programs were up and running.

Now, Vermont is in its first year of fully implementing universal pre-K statewide.

As Vermont Public Radio (VPR) explains, “All of Vermont’s 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds who are not attending kindergarten are eligible to participate in Universal Pre-K, but it’s not required.”

The VPR report adds:

“Under Act 166, the state pays a set tuition to schools such as Wee Explorers to provide 10 hours of preschool a week, for the 35-week school year. This year the tuition is just under $3,100 per student. In total, the state is spending about $13.7 million on Pre-K tuition this year. That accounts for payments made to private preschools as well as payments to public preschools for out-of-district students who attend a preschool program run by a school district.”

“Basically, it works like a voucher program for preschool. Families can choose to send their child to pre-K at their local public school, if it’s offered. Or they can pick a private program that is ‘pre-qualified’ or, in other words, endorsed by the state.”

How’s it going?

Gail Beck, director and head teacher at Wee Explorers Preschool, says, “more families can afford to take advantage of the preschool. And that’s brought more diversity into the classroom.”

Local teacher Anne Demers says that students who have attended pre-K arrive in her first-grade classrooms with more of the skills they need to learn.

“They’re much more adapted to a setting that they’ve been exposed to before,” Demers says. “So, we’re noticing less separation anxiety. We’re noticing what we’re calling scholarly habits – a little bit more independence, some self-confidence, a little bit more ability to be persevering.”

State officials estimate that they are “about 15,000 children in Vermont eligible for the Universal Pre-K program, and about half of them are now attending preschool.”

To determine how children are doing, “All publicly funded prekindergarten programs are required to report on the progress of children on an annual basis using the online Teaching Strategies GOLD child assessment,” according to the Agency of Education’s website.

Because outreach is crucial, preschool programs are reaching out to parents to educate them about the state’s pre-K law and to encourage them to visit programs.

“We offer full and half day options, as well as early morning and afterschool programs, for two, three, four or five day a week schedules,” Jean Edwards, executive director of The Little School, explains. “The Little School understands the importance of not just offering enriching preschool programming, but also, helping working families meet their childcare needs.”

As pre-K grows, state legislators are “looking at ways to increase the number of Vermont families who utilize the state’s universal pre-K system and are evaluating the pre-K structure to determine whether efficiencies and reduced bureaucracy can be achieved.”

So, keep an eye on Vermont’s early education growth. The state is becoming a national role model.