In a first for the U.S., Vermont now requires communities to offer 10 hours a week of free preschool to 3- and 4-year-olds.
Funding for “universal” preschool has been available for some time in Vermont, but until July 1 it was up to local districts to offer it or not. Many did, and Vermont is one of the states with the highest rates of public preschool attendance among 4-year-olds, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research.
The free care is still optional for families. That is, though it must be offered, attendance is not mandatory. (Kindergarten attendance isn’t mandatory in most states either.) Still, 10 free hours of care can make a big difference to the monthly budget, even for middle class families. The average weekly cost of child care for a 3- or 4-year-old in a licensed center in Vermont was $192, according to The Vermont Department for Children and Families.
The program has been popular among school districts even when it was voluntary, according to an AP report:
More than a quarter of schools with kindergartens implemented universal pre-K last school year, said the Vermont Agency of Education. The rest of Vermont's schools were expected to comply by the start of this month.
A similar program, offering 15 free hours of care for 3-year-olds, is in place in England, but it is unusual in the U.S.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.