How Much Have We Lost?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Time to Invest in Preschool

This is a column I wrote that appeared in the Mount Vernon Gazette on May 20, 2010. If you are interested in participating in this working group, please contact my aide Chris Bea at DelSSurovell@house.virginia.gov.

When the state got into funding secondary education about 90 years ago, it was supposed to be an equal partner. That is not the case today in Northern Virginia and this needs to change. I strongly believe that one of the best ways the state could help us here in Mount Vernon is to invest in preschool education.

Educators widely recognize that early childhood education gives children strong fundamentals for succeeding in school and that children who do not have these programs start kindergarten at a disadvantage. There is not a single preschool on the west side of U.S. 1 in the 44th Delegate District. There are 14 preschools on the east side including the preschool my grandparents helped found in 1941 — Tauxemont Preschool.

Children who attend preschool have a huge advantage over children who do not. We have too many children in Mount Vernon who show up for kindergarten who have never sat in circle, focused on a task or learned how to hold a pencil. Just last week a study was published confirmed that children who lack quality daycare before age four-and-a-half start off behind, frequently stay behind, and are at-risk for all kinds of problems in adolescence and as adults.

Notwithstanding all of this research, one day during the session when we were debating this year’s state budget, two budget negotiators from downstate argued that Fairfax County was a wealthy place that did not have a significant need for state education funding and argued against funding for at-risk children’s programs because they maintained, these programs are not effective. Likewise, the original House Budget made massive cuts to funding for at-risk children's education programs and rolled all programs into one block grant so that localities would have the discretion to make funding decisions on their own.

I took to the floor of the House and argued that if we took every free and reduced lunch child in Fairfax County and put them into their own school district, it would be the eighth largest school system in Virginia out of approximately 120. Our special education population would be 12th and our English-as-a-Second-Language population would be 14th. We have plenty of many compelling needs in Fairfax County and especially right here in Mount Vernon. Also, I pointed out that while sending a block grant might provide "flexibility" to localities, many of us had concerns about how resources were allocated within our counties when "flexibility" was exercised and that we preferred that funds be allocated for specific programs. When it is time for the School Board to vote, we only have two votes out of 12 (Mount Vernon and Lee Districts).

What is happening in Fairfax County today is precisely demonstrating my point. Both sides of the U. S. 1 corridor have some of the steepest education challenges and the greatest needs in the County yet we are seeing major cuts. Parents across Mount Vernon have been contacting me about cuts to Project Excel, elementary school focus funding, and new fees. This is not sustainable. Long-term we have to invest in our children, in programs for at-risk kids, and have preschool programs available for everyone.

I am assembling a working group to make legislative recommendations regarding how the state can encourage the expansion of opportunities for communities that are not currently well-served by preschools. If you would like to participate in this working group, please email my aide, Christopher Bea, at DelSSurovell@house.virginia.gov or call my office at 571.249.44TH (4484).

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