MONTPELIER -- Just as Vermont was among the first to legalize gay marriage, the state can be a pioneer in universal early-childhood education, Gov. Peter Shumlin told an audience of more than 250 people Tuesday at a daylong meeting on the topic.
Shumlin called for the Governor’s Early Childhood Summit in his second inaugural address nine months ago, describing it as an opportunity to create a guide for the healthy development of Vermont’s youngest children.
Six goals, developed with input from more than 700 people, were released Tuesday, and summit participants started work on a statewide action plan to meet them.
"We’re on the right track," Shumlin told summit participants. "If everyone can bring 10 of their neighbors, friends, colleagues to this discussion, we move this thing faster than marriage equality. We can move it faster than many other issues that have come before us. And I say that when Vermont gets this one right, the others will follow."
The Vermont House approved a bill this past session that provides children at least 10 hours per week of publicly funded pre-kindergarten programs. "We’re going to get it through the Senate and to my desk this year," Shumlin predicted.
Shumlin, who overcame childhood dyslexia, speaks from personal experience.
"If I had had the quality early-childhood education starting early, I can tell you as one Vermonter that my struggles with the education process in grade school would have been much different," he said.
The goals developed through meetings, a focus group with parents, and online comments were succinctly stated as: a healthy start for all children; families and communities playing a leading role; high-quality opportunities for all children; investing now for the future; build on what is working with accountability in mind; and an innovative and connected system.
Julie Coffey, executive director of Building Bright Futures, said the organization would help develop strategies to reach those goals. The office serves as the Vermont Early Education Advisory Council and a nonprofit governance body for the early childhood system.
"Building Bright Futures is leading the charge in corralling us, pointing us forward and keeping ourselves on our toes, and we’re also developing a financing plan that will lay out those strategies," Coffey said.