Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine visits with Connor Bailey and Austin Thompson at Van Pelt Elementary School during a visit for a discussion about his Pre-K education plans. Photo by Erica Yoon.
BRISTOL, Va. — Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine tried to drum up grass-roots support for his plan to expand the state’s pre-kindergarten initiative Thursday while lawmakers in Richmond struggled to finalize the state budget.
After a roundtable discussion with local elected and school officials at Van Pelt Elementary School in Bristol, Kaine sounded conciliatory and didn’t single out lawmakers who either oppose the budget or his pre-K expansion proposal.
Kaine, a Democrat, said the Senate version of his biennial budget included $44 million to expand pre-K, while the House had penciled in $25 million for the program.
“I believe they will find that midpoint ... that will be at a place to enable us to begin this significant expansion of this early childhood program,” Kaine said of the Senate-House differences in funding pre-K expansion. “My prediction is that there will not be a protracted fight. ... I can see a path to finishing on time. ... Coming here helps emphasize there is real-life impact to these issues we are debating.”
Kaine also talked to 4-year-old kids inside a pre-K classroom at Van Pelt and watched them draw, do puzzles and use computers.
Van Pelt pre-K teacher Sharon Hill said exposing kids to reading is the main key to the classroom’s success.
“A lot of them haven’t been exposed to reading. ... You need to be able to read because everything is tied into that,” she said.
Kaine said the Virginia Preschool Initiative is currently serving about 12,000 4-year-olds — at-risk kids who are eligible for free lunches — in pre-K settings.
He wants to push that number to 20,000 or beyond to include those kids who get reduced-cost lunches.
The results, Kaine told officials during the roundtable discussion, show up in the percentage of third-graders who are able read on that grade level.
“If they can read, then there’s a good chance they’re also passing the social studies, math and science level tests,” Kaine said. “There’s also a 95 percent chance they will pass the fifth-grade reading level.”
His plan would include a flexible network of high-quality preschool providers, including public schools, private centers, Head Start programs, and faith-based facilities. School officials in the roundtable discussion insisted that public schools need to lead the initiative.
Under Kaine’s plan, up to 67 percent of Virginia’s 4-year-olds could be enrolled in a high-quality preschool setting by 2012. It will cost approximately $140 million annually at full implementation, approximately $90 million more than the $50 million the state currently spends each year on programs for at-risk 4-year-olds.
“I am going all over the state seeking support for this,” Kaine said. “I realize we are going through revenue challenges. ... We’re all reading the newspapers and watching the TV station about the national economy slowing down. ... But we will get through the revenue challenges we have. A tight revenue time is when you show where your priorities are.”
For more information go to www.governor.virginia.gov.