In the new year, a new plan will put $448 million toward early childhood education in Virginia.
Known as “Building Blocks for Virginia Families,” Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s plan provides funds to help child care centers address staff shortages and help families struggling to pay for care.
A Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission report found about three in four Virginia families cannot afford child care.
Allison Gilbreath, senior policy and progress director at Voices for Virginia’s Children, said the money fills the gap left when federal pandemic funding ended.
“When those dollars stopped back in June, many child care centers in Virginia were facing hard decisions of whether they were going to be able to stay open,” Gilbreath recounted. “Because their families could not afford to pay the subsidy that they were receiving from the federal government.”
The Economic Policy Institute reported infant care in Virginia costs more than $14,000 a year. While the money remedies certain problems, Gilbreath noted child care is still in short supply. The plan is expected to bolster parents’ choice of home providers, church programs and private day care centers.
Some $25 million of the funding will go toward eliminating child care deserts, which are a big problem in Virginia, according to the Center for American Progress.
Gilbreath stressed the conversation about how lack of care affects families in rural areas must be more inclusive.
“There are a lot of grandparents raising grandchildren, especially in our more rural parts of the community, and they need access to child care, but affordable,” Gilbreath explained. “It really helps lessen the stress within a household, and it helps children develop those social and emotional skills they really need to thrive.”
Facilities known as “early learning hubs” will be launched to help fill the gaps. If Youngkin’s plan is successful, Virginia can buck long-standing trends in early childhood education. The Annie E. Casey Kids Count Data Book finds more than half of Virginia 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds are not enrolled in preschool programs, reflecting a national trend.