Two bills, HB 1012 (Bulova) and SB 578 (Howell), that would consolidate oversight and administration of early childhood programs at the state level within the Department of Education are moving forward this session. Similar legislation had been considered last year, but was delayed to allow for further discussion and the development of a plan by key state leaders. Proponents of consolidation at the state level have suggested that Virginia’s current system of administration and oversight is fragmented – for example, the Virginia Preschool Initiative is administered by the Department of Education, but the child care subsidy program is currently overseen by the Department of Social Services – and that it would be more beneficial to consider all early-learning experiences to be part of a system of early care and education.
The bills would direct the Board of Education to establish a “statewide unified public-private system for early childhood care and education in the Commonwealth to ensure that every child has the opportunity to enter kindergarten healthy and ready to learn.” The Board would be required to establish an early childhood care and education advisory committee, representing licensed providers, license-exempt providers, Head Start providers, local school divisions, the business community, higher education representatives with early childhood expertise, and pediatricians, among other stakeholders. The Board would be responsible for developing a uniform quality rating system, in which all publicly-funded providers of early childhood care would be required to participate (Virginia’s current quality rating system is voluntary). The Board must develop the system by July 1, 2021, and initial quality ratings would be published in fall 2023.
Licensure of child day programs and family day systems, which currently falls under the Board of Social Services, would be transferred to the Board of Education. Authority provided to certain localities in Northern Virginia to regulate child care facilities would be retained. Administration of the child care subsidy program at the local level would remain with local departments of social services, although the bill provides that the Commissioner of Social Services and local departments will administer the program under the auspices of the State Child Care Plan prepared by the Department of Education. Local administration of child care subsidy was an issue discussed last year and many advocates suggested that retaining this program within local departments would help those departments serve families (who may be receiving other services from local departments in addition to child care subsidies) in a holistic way.
The bills have a delayed effective date of July 1, 2021 (with the exception of the establishment of the advisory committee, which will take effect July 1, 2020), in order to allow the Superintendent of Public Instruction to develop a plan to implement the unified early childhood care and education system, to include statutory and regulatory changes necessary to transfer authority for certain federal programs, such as the Child Care and Development Block Grant and Head Start State Collaboration Office grants, to the Department of Education. The Departments of Social Services and Education are directed to develop a plan for the seamless transition of programs.
The bills are in keeping with a substantial focus on early childhood by the Northam Administration. The Governor’s introduced budget included approximately $95 million to expand access to pre-kindergarten for at-risk three- and four-year olds, by increasing the Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) per-pupil amount, funding additional slots for children on the VPI waiting list, and providing additional grants for public-private partnerships to provide preschool for at-risk children, among other investments.