January 26, 2021
On January 12, 2021 at noon, we held a pre-session briefing on Governor Northam’s early childhood priorities, featuring Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, First Lady Pamela Northam, the Honorable Louise Lucas and Virginia’s Chief School Readiness Officer Jenna Conway.
“I believe there is power in every child and all children in Virginia are capable of success in school and beyond if they are given the resources they need to grow and thrive. But, where we end up in life has a lot to do with where we start and we know the academic achievement gap begins in the first years of life. That’s why expanding access to quality early childhood education has been a top priority for our administration since day one.”
-The Honorable Ralph Northam, Governor of Virginia
Governor Northam shared that he will continue to make early education a priority with the General Assembly, and that access to early childhood education is essential to the long term health and well-being of our children, as well as our future workforce. The Governor also said he will be introducing a bill to legalize marijuana in Virginia to bring in tax revenue to provide equitable access to early childhood education. Funding will also expunge marijuana convictions and provide access to early childhood education for all children.
“Our parents are our children’s first educators and it is really important to support them.”
-Jenna Conway, Chief School Readiness Officer in Virginia
Jenna Conway expanded on the Governor’s initiatives as the Chief School Readiness Officer for the proposed early childhood agenda. Before the pandemic, 44% of children were assessed as not ready for kindergarten – three out of 10 failed the reading SOL, and two out of 10 failed in math. Post-COVID these achievement readiness gaps can be addressed with the proposed General Assembly bill.
“Early childhood education is not a new issue for me. This is an issue I have been passionate about for years because I’ve seen firsthand the powerful impact a quality head start program can have on a child.”
– The Honorable Louise, Lucas, President Pro Tempore, Senate of Virginia
The Honorable Louise Lucas, President Pro Tempore, Senate of Virginia, shared her experience with early childhood education as a previous director for Head Start, as well as seeing the positive effects through her grandson. Early childhood education is critically important to prepare all children for school and to divert the school-to-prison pipeline. Senator Lucas noted that the proposed legislation is just the beginning of what needs to be done over many years.
“We have a proven intervention with a return on investment far greater than any other, and that is access to quality early learning. As a teacher myself, I know personally that talented and experienced teachers are the key to successful programs…teachers have been the unsung heroes of this pandemic.”
-First Lady of Virginia, Pamela Northam
First Lady Pamela Northam explained that in order for early childhood education to be scalable and sustainable there should be focus on efficiency to maximize every dollar of federal funding, there should be a mandatory quality rating and improvement system, and transparent comparison of data for legislators and parents as well as support for parents and families.
The panelists discussed that for the next five to 10 years, the VDOE and social services with other stakeholders will continue to work to offer early childhood education for at risk three-years-olds while maximizing opportunities. By 2030, Virginia hopes to have quality options available to all children from toddlers to five years old, and many organizations are coalescing around the shared goal.
In concluding, the panelists reiterated that children are our best investment, asset, and treasure, and the proposed budget and legislation will demonstrate value by providing for every child in Virginia.
For more information, visit the Early Learning Now campaign at https://vaearlyed.org/join/ to get updates on the Governor’s early childhood education investments.