In an effort to increase access to high-quality prekindergarten (preK) programs for all young children in Vermont, the state passed universal preK legislation in 2014 (Act 166). All 3- and 4-year-olds have access to 10 hours a week of state-funded preK through a mixed-delivery system of public school and private programs. Families can enroll their children at no cost in any approved preK program across the state regardless of location. In efforts to better understand program availability, program quality, and characteristics related to family choice among universal preK programs in Vermont, this study examined the characteristics of approved preK programs overall, public school and private programs separately, and programs in local education agencies with different population sizes and poverty levels. The study found that in 2018/19 fewer than 50 percent of programs were at preK capacity and that a higher percentage of private programs than of public school programs and a higher percentage of programs in high-poverty local education agencies than of programs in low-poverty local education agencies were at preK capacity. These findings raise questions about the availability of preK programs in high-poverty areas. The study also found that program quality is similar across local education agencies with different population sizes and poverty rates, suggesting that Act 166 allows for an equitable preK system in terms of program quality for families in rural and low-income areas of the state. The findings also suggest that continuing to allow families to access preK in locations other than their local education agency of residence might maximize preK availability for families in local education agencies with few—sometimes only one—preK programs. Private programs reported being open for more hours per day and for more weeks per year than public school programs were, which might reduce the need for transitions throughout the day and year for children in private programs who need additional child care beyond the 10 hours per week funded by the state. (author abstract)
Characteristics of approved universal prekindergarten programs in Vermont in 2018/19
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