(Host) After more than 4 hours of debate, the Vermont House this afternoon approved legislation that encourages school districts to provide pre-kindergarten programs to younger students in their communities.
The big fight over the bill came on an amendment that would have limited state funding for these programs in the future.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.
(Kinzel) In the end, the debate came down to increased burdens for property tax payers versus the benefits of providing educational services to younger children.
Currently, schools are allowed to offer these services either at their own facilities or through contracts with private providers. About 25 % of all 3 and 4-year-olds in Vermont are enrolled in such programs.
The students must receive at least 10 hours of educational services to qualify for state funds. Roughly $11 million is allocated from the State’s Education Fund for these programs.
The legislation clarifies the rules and regulations that school districts must follow to participate in the voluntary program.
Opponents of the bill tried to cap spending on pre-kindergarten programs at their current levels – a move that would block any expansion using state funds.
Georgia Rep. Carolyn Branagan argued that taxpayers simply can’t afford this legislation:
(Branagan) “I’m not against pre-school programs and I don’t wish to have little children denied educational opportunities. My position is simply that Vermont taxpayers cannot continue to fund every worthwhile project that comes along.”
(Kinzel) It was a position supported by Shelburne Rep. Joyce Errecart:
(Errecart) “This is money that we are taking involuntarily from taxpayers and then using to subsidize some people on something that is unclear.”
(Kinzel) Newport Rep. Duncan Kilmartin strongly opposed the amendment. He noted that 70% of Vermont parents are employed and he says most need quality child care services. Kilmartin, a Republican, also had a message for the members of his caucus who wanted to cap spending.
(Kilmartin) “Give these 3 and 4-year-olds a better opportunity to obtain better nurture and development in a child care system with preference for private providers. I’m trying to support the family and their children in view of the reality of where their parents are today. I don’t have a magic wand to put 70% of the moms back in the home and neither do you my fellow Republicans or social or fiscal conservatives.”
(Kinzel) Winooski Rep. Ken Atkins is a former teacher. He says spending on pre kindergarten programs should be viewed as an investment in the future:
(Atkins) “If we do this now we’re going to be able to help our young children and give them a good start on their education.”
(Kinzel) The House defeated the amendment by a vote of 89 to 54 and then passed the underlying bill by a two to one margin.
The measure is expected to come up for final approval in the House on Thursday.
For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.