Vermont leads the nation in 3- and 4-year-old enrollment in pre-K, but education advocates say that's not enough.
Gov. Peter Shumlin says increased spending is the smart choice, easy choice, as every dollar invested saves seven as students rise through the education system.
"Forget the dollars, what really matters is it gives our kids an opportunity to have a successful life," said Shumlin, D-Vermont.
Right now, a year of pre-K can cost parents $8,000-$10,000. But those who qualify for state subsidies and provider scholarships can save with as much as $6,000.
Surrounded by tots, Shumlin announced that 12 Vermont communities will receive a cumulative $800,000 worth of student aid funds. They are: Essex Town, Barre City, Barre Town, Bennington, Danville, Hartford, Hinesburg, Lyndonville, Milton, Pownal, Pittsford and Woodford. Vermont's ed fund will supply half of those dollars; the rest will be matched by the nonprofit Vermont Community Preschool Collaborative.
Eighty-four percent of towns participate in a publicly-funded pre-K program; the state covers the cost of up to 10 hours a week per student. The grants will add Woodford and Pownal to that percentage, while the rest of the communities will be able to add openings.
Parent of three and Essex resident Melissa Dubuque's youngest is almost ready for kindergarten, but says she still supports the state's efforts to make pre-K cheaper for others.
"We've been fortunate with some of the programs that we've used, but our first choices were definitely not affordable," Dubuque said.
"This is a great step forward for the state of Vermont," said Rep. Sarah Buxton, D-Randolph.
Buxton praised the additional support for pre-K students. Her proposal to provide universal, publicly-subsidized access passed the House, but could not gain enough support to pass the Senate before the Legislature closed this year.
She'll float the idea again next year, hoping for big returns when students graduate 13 years later.
Governor Shumlin's spokespeople say he supports Buxton's universal pre-K proposal, and looks forward to discussions about details, costs and funding sources.
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