Federal funds to expand access to child care & education in Virginia, local groups announce plans

Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (WJHL) – Virginia will be using more than $203 million to expand access to child care and education and increase support for child care providers.

According to a release from the office of Governor Ralph Northam, the funds will expand the eligibility criteria for the Child Care Subsidy Program.

State officials hope the increased access to resources will help Virginia’s youngest students catch up on time lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Early educators have been diligent and dedicated to keeping children safe and meeting the needs of our youngest Virginians since the early days of this public health crisis,” said Northam in the release. “As we emerge from the pandemic, the strength of our recovery will depend upon our ability to help families return to the workforce and provide quality, affordable options for early childhood care and education. These additional investments will help address the challenges child care providers are facing and ensure we can continue to deliver critical resources to those most in need now and into the future.”

The release states despite the fact that most child care centers have reopened in Virginia, the pandemic has left many programs with staffing challenges, revenue difficulties and higher costs of operation.

The federal funding will allow the commonwealth to give programs stabilizing grants that and offer bonuses and scholarships to programs that have yet to receive assistance.

“I’m grateful to the legislators for their support of our littlest learners during another successful General Assembly session,” said First Lady Northam in the release. “This funding will help our superhero educators continue to support Virginia’s most valuable asset—our children.”

On Wednesday, Pamela Northam visited Southwest Virginia and spoke on the plans for the Child Care Subsidy Program at Norton Elementary and Middle School.

While in Norton, First Lady Northam spoke about a partnership between Ballad Health, the United Way of Southwest Virginia and the state.

One of the efforts of the partnership will be to address the education missed due to the pandemic by launching “Kinder Camps.”

It is a three-week camp called Kinder Camps that will allow a young child to get acclimated to social skills ahead of their entrance to kindergarten. It is also an opportunity to provide social and emotional support for kids who were not able to have these.

“We have lots of concerns about our little ones preparing for kindergarten. We’re looking at literacy scores that are five times less than they should be at this time,” Pamela Northam said.

First Lady Northam toured Norton Elementary and Middle School Wednesday to get a feel of how Southwest Virginia schools are operating during in-person learning post-quarantine.

“We’re also here to thank our amazing superhero teachers. This has been such a difficult year for all school personnel,” she said.

Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarin said, “Brain development: 90% of it occurs in birth to five {years old}. We know the research is there. Gradually, we will get more and more children access to quality education settings whether it’s four-year-olds and three-year-olds.”

Ballad Health CEO Alan Levine announced the healthcare system’s investment to go with the state’s $203 million grant.

“A nearly $200,000 grant to the United Way of Southwest Virginia to support Kinder-Camps,” Levine said. “These funds will allow the United Way to develop partnerships with Southwest Virginia school systems by providing up to 30 three-week long kinder-camp prep programs.”

The free camps will be offered in Buchanan, Smyth, Wise, and Tazewell Counties, as well as in Norton and Bristol’s City school districts. Enrollment will be based on assessments.

“These camps will happen over summer. We will be working with local school systems and early childcare providers to identify students that are at risk or behind and really need some remediation and help so that we can work with them a couple of weeks before school starts,” United Way of Southwest Virginia president and CEO Travis Staton said.

Classrooms will be scaled to one teacher per 15 children, to ensure an adequate amount of teacher attention for the students. Kinder-Camps will have the capacity to serve 450 students.

“There are some assessments that school systems will do, to identify which children may have not had adequate pre-k experiences before school that they could recommend to the parent that they would be a good candidate,” Staton added.

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