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Virginia Assembly Approves Child-Services Agency

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The Virginia General Assembly has passed a bill to establish a new agency to coordinate the state's day-care and early-childhood services.

The measure creating the Virginia Council on Child Day Care and Early-Childhood Programs won final approval in both houses of the legislature last week and is being forwarded to Gov. Gerald L. Baliles for his signature.

The bill appears to be one of the most ambitious efforts by a state to promote collaboration in the provision of early-years programs.

The panel will coordinate day-care, Head Start, and preschool programs operated by a broad range of public and private agencies in the state, and "identify needs and gaps" in services, said Eva S. Teig, secretary of the state department of4health and human resources.

"What we have now is a very fragmented approach," said Ms. Teig, who will oversee the council in consultation with the secretaries of education and economic development.

'Natural Relationship'

Officials say a key goal of the effort is to encourage day-care and preschool providers to join forces in providing high-quality child-development programs with full-time care for the children of working parents.

"We think there's a natural relationship that we need to structure and build into these two situations," said Donald J. Finley, the state's secretary of education. "Many times it's the same youngster" who stands to benefit from both programs, he said.

State officials say their ultimate aim is to offer such services to all disadvantaged 4-year-olds in the state.

"This is not an effort to 'mandate' early-childhood programs, but it does represent our conviction that we can and should move toward early-childhood-development programs for all 'at risk' 4-year-olds by 1995," Governor Baliles told children's advocates at a meeting this month.

The legislature has proposed spending $455,000 to set up the panel and hire staff. State officials estimate, however, that it could cost from $22 million to $35 million to serve the estimated 19,000 preschoolers whowould qualify for the aid.

The state now provides preschool services to about 9,700 disadvantaged and handicapped 4-year-olds in federal, state, local, and private-sector programs.

One-Stop Office

The 15-member council, to be appointed by the Governor, will review agency funding requests, make policy recommendations, prepare biennial state plans for early-childhood services, and serve as a clearinghouse for information.

It is also designed to provide a "one-stop office" for members of the business community seeking information on employer child care.

Barbara A. Willer, information-services director for the National Association for the Education of Young Children, noted that other states--such as South Carolina and Washington State--have launched interagency efforts to improve early-childhood services.

But the Virginia initiative appears to be unique in that it creates a new structure for such coordination and attempts to pool the resources of a wide range of public and private day-care and preschool providers, Ms. Willer said.

Mr. Finley said the council would promote programs that offer "developmentally appropriate" activities, rather than overly rigorous academic activities for young children.

"We want to make sure it is not just an early 1st grade," he said.

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