Pre-K measure championed by Shumlin may stall - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Pre-K measure championed by Shumlin may stall

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MONTPELIER, Vt. -

Rep. Sarah Buxton says about 38 percent of Vermont's 3- and 4-year-olds are in pre-kindergarten.

"We know that's not high enough," said Buxton, D-Royalton.

Pre-K is not mandatory, and 84 percent of those in the age range can access local Ed fund dollars to pay for it, even though less than half of them are enrolled.

Buxton is sponsoring a bill to mandate universal access to qualified programs. She says that should raise enrollment to 60 percent by the time school starts in the fall of 2015.

"It's good for taxpayers, and it's really good for kids," she said.

The proposal bears an expected cost of $1.2 million in 2016 and nearly $10 million by 2020. Proponents argue the Ed fund is likely to see those hikes regardless. They say the investment should help kids succeed and create large cost savings in remedial education as students age.

It's an issue the governor prominently highlighted in his January budget address, but the bill still has a long legislative journey in front of it, and legislators hope to wrap up work by the weekend.

"Quality early education reaps returns," said Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland County.

Mullin supports the bill and is working to get it through a couple of Senate committees, the floor, and back to the House before legislators return home for the year. He says he's cautiously optimistic the measure will become law this year.

"There's better than a 50 percent chance that it gets done," Mullin said. "That doesn't mean it will be done, but we're still working fast and furiously."

Controversial issues have consumed large amounts of the Senate's time this week. If other bills continue to prove to be significant distractions in the coming days, it could mean the pre-K funding bill will be shelved until next year.

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