The state of Vermont is poised to adopt a universal pre-kindergarten program for 3- and 4-year-olds.
The new law will require school districts to offer at least 10 hours of instruction for 35 weeks to any preschool-aged child. The state will reimburse districts of qualified pre-kindergarten programs offered by private or public providers.
More than half of Vermont children are not ready for school when they enter kindergarten, according to a recent study from the Agency of Education.
While most of the state’s 270-plus districts already have programs for pre-K students, 37 do not. The universal pre-K bill will bring about 1,800 additional 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds into preschool programs. The total number of children who would take advantage of the program is expected to be about 6,000, or 60 percent of the state’s 11,284 preschool-aged children.
Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, argued on the Senate floor last week that making pre-K universal is a matter of fairness and equity.
"We have a situation in Vermont where pre-K is paid for by every property taxpayer, but depending on where you live, families do not have equal access to pre-K," Mullin said.
The total cost per year is $26 million; the expansion of the program, included in the total, is $9.6 million.
The Vermont Senate passed H.270 after heated debate and a close vote on a crucial amendment (17-13) Friday that removed a trigger that would have delayed implementation of the law. On Monday, the Senate passed the bill (19-9), which will go into effect July 1, 2015. The House approved the legislation at the end of April.
Gov. Peter Shumlin has said he will sign the bill.
"My thanks to lawmakers for their hard work on this thoughtful plan to give all Vermont’s 3- and 4-year-olds access to high quality pre-kindergarten education," Shumlin said in a statement.