One area of focus for Governor Ralph Northam’s Children’s Cabinet is early childhood development and school readiness. Early childhood care and education programs like Head Start are currently administered across multiple agencies. Over the summer, Jenna Conway joined the Department of Education as Chief School Readiness Officer in an effort to unify and improve Virginia’s early childhood education system. She had overseen similar efforts in Louisiana.
VACo supports efforts to increase at-risk children’s access to high-quality, enriching learning environments, including more resources and flexibility for localities participating in programs like the Virginia Preschool Initiative and Head Start. Two bills this session that seek to make changes aimed at streamlining Early Childhood services have met different fates.
HB 2458 (Landes) directs the Virginia Board of Education to establish and administer a statewide unified public-private system for early childhood care and education to ensure school readiness. The bill mandates that this system use state-level authority and regional-level public-private partnership assets and establishes exemptions from licensure. The bill also creates the Early Childhood Innovation Fund to facilitate regional public-private collaboration and to field test strategies and practices that support a system of comprehensive early childhood care and education services in order to deliver measurable school readiness outcomes and meet regional workforce support needs. The bill has a delayed effective date of July 1, 2021 and directs the Superintendent of Public Instruction to create a plan accordingly. The bill was reported by the House Education Committee on a 20-1 vote and referred to House Appropriations where it was left before crossover.
SB 1095 (Howell) was significantly amended and parred down from its original scope, which was like HB 2458, to instead direct the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Commissioner of Social services to convene a stakeholder group that shall investigate the development of a unified early childhood education system that incorporates private and public options. The bill passed the Senate on February 4 on a vote of 37-2 with one abstention and has since been referred to House Education Committee.
VACo Contact: Jeremy Bennett