Vermont Legislature Considers Preschool for 3- and 4-Year-Olds

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The Vermont legislature is expected to consider a new initiative--promoted by Gov. Richard A. Snelling last year during his bid for re-election--that would expand early-childhood-education programs in the state to include children aged 3 to 8.

The proposed legislation, which was introduced earlier this month, would authorize $320,000 to cover the start-up cost of early-education programs in about five school districts.

The programs would begin during the next school year.

Additional State Aid

If approved by the legislature, the initiative would also mean additional state aid for school districts that now offer preschool programs, but that by state law cannot include those children in their student-enrollment counts for funding purposes.

Attendance becomes compulsory at age 5 in many states, according to Chris Pipho, editor of State Education Review, a publication of the Denver-based Education Commission of the States.

In Vermont, as in about 35 other states, kindergarten programs are not mandated. However, about 65 percent of the 223 school districts that provide elementary education also have kindergarten programs for 5-year-olds, according to Mary Ann Luciano, director of intergovernmental affairs for the department of education.

Ms. Luciano said that only 49 of the 223 school districts have preschool programs for children under 5 and that most of those programs are for either handicapped or economically disadvantaged children.

Under the plan developed by the state department of education and the University of Vermont's college of education, local school officials entering into contracts with the state would be required to implement the following components:

Early screening. State officials want all 3- to 5-year-olds in the state identified and evaluated so that those who fall below the normal range of development can receive early treatment.

"As more children receive early intervention, fewer children [will] require remedial services during their primary and secondary educational experience," according to a memorandum on the department's proposal.

Preschool readiness. "Children must enter the primary education program fully prepared to learn," the memorandum asserts.

By the 4th grade, the students in the program, it says, would be able to read and understand written material; write letters to their friends and statements expressing their opinions; compute mathematical problems; understand health concepts; and use reasoning skills to explain solutions to a problem.

Kindergarten alternatives. School districts would have several options available to them for meeting this requirement, such as a cooperative kindergarten program administered by groups of parents and developed in cooperation with school officials.

According to the memorandum, state education officials want all 5-year-olds in the state to participate in a kindergarten program that is integrated with the public-school curriculum.

The legislative proposal would make "a clear policy statement that early education is important" and still allow for local program planning, according to Ms. Luciano.

Local school boards would not be required to implement pre-kindergarten programs but the legislation would provide an incentive to do so through a reimbursement schedule, she said.

In an effort to generate local support, state education officials have planned a series of public meetings throughout the state on the proposal.

Ms. Luciano said that the department may begin training teachers even if the legislature does not act on the proposal until next year.

Vol. 02, Issue 22

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