Virginia receives $17.5 million grant funding for preschool growth

(WDBJ7) Some preschools in Virginia are going to grow in size and technology thanks to grants from the federal government.

Eleven school divisions across the Commonwealth are getting their third round of federal Preschool Expansion Grants.

Virginia received $17.5 million of a possible $247.4 million awarded to 18 states in the country.

These funds will allow the Commonwealth to continue to serve at-risk four-year-olds in high-quality pre-kindergarten programs across the state.

The Commonwealth has been awarded an annual amount of $17.5 million since 2014, following a rigorous application process, according to Governor Terry McAuliffe's office.

"Providing our children with high-quality preschool education is essential to giving every Virginia student the start he or she needs to succeed in school and prepare for a successful career in the new Virginia economy," said Governor McAuliffe. "I am proud of the work our administration has done to expand access to Pre-K for all students, so that a child's zip code or his parent's financial situation does not dictate his or her prospects for future success. These grants will further that mission and help Virginia remain a leader in early childhood education."

These additional funds will continue to improve upon the already successful Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) and expand services to four-year olds and their families in high need communities. This combination of instruction, outreach and support is known as VPI+.

In Giles County, their share of that money has already built two new preschools, welcoming 36 students for the first time.

VPI+ Program Coach Catherine Webb explained, "Those students would not have access to a preschool program, unfortunately."

Webb still remembers one boy who joined preschool as part of the program who was shy and uncomfortable at school. A year later, the change was obvious.

"Not only did our preschool program provide academic benefits for this child, but we had a child excited to come to kindergarten and we had a family that was comfortable in that school environment and supportive of their child," she recalled.

The grants also fund technology in the classrooms, field trips, and special training for teachers from the Virginia Department of Education and UVA.

Webb explained, "The training has been wonderful, it has allowed for a lot of professional growth, but that said it's been very intensive and has taken a lot of dedication from them."

But there are only two years of grants left. So the schools are tracking each student through third grade to prove the program helps and should continue to be funded.

"We're hoping that once that is looked at, that data, that we will have sustainability of the program by our locality after the four years," Webb said.

The schools are already talking with their governments trying to fight for that money.

In the first year of the grant, a total of 2,804 children and their families were served in new or improved preschool classrooms. During the second year of the grant, Virginia's school divisions set goals to serve over 3,300 at-risk students.

The school divisions receiving continued funding under this grant include: Brunswick County, Chesterfield County, Fairfax County, Giles County, Henrico County, City of Norfolk, City of Petersburg, Prince William County, City of Richmond, Sussex County, and City of Winchester.

"Virginia remains committed to expanding educational opportunities to underserved populations in every corner of the Commonwealth, and that includes increasing access to high-quality pre-kindergarten," stated Secretary of Education Dietra Trent. "This third round of grants will ensure that even more of our youngest students receive the education they need and the resources they deserve."

"As a result of these grants, Virginia will have several years of data on how high-quality preschool, coupled with support for families and research-based professional development for teachers, can improve outcomes for young learners," Superintendent of Public Instruction Steven R. Staples said.