- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 9, 2005

RICHMOND — Gubernatorial candidate Timothy M. Kaine yesterday announced a campaign proposal that would give Virginia children universal access to pre-kindergarten.

At a town-hall meeting in Henrico County, Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, said children who attend such programs are better prepared for life.

“It’s time we step up as a state,” he told a room of about 250 supporters gathered at Dumbarton Elementary School. “It’s time we recognize that we’ve got to invest dollars if we want our kids to succeed.”

Mr. Kaine, the lieutenant governor, said as governor he would dramatically expand existing pre-kindergarten programs that are now used by about half of the state’s 4-year-olds.

He estimated it would cost about $290 million annually to pay for the program, which he dubbed “Start Strong.” He would like to see the program phased in gradually: The first year, the program would cost about $75 million, and the second year it would cost about $150 million and so on.

He said he would expand on the private and public programs already in place at schools and day care centers.

The program would not be mandatory.

Mr. Kaine said 90 percent of a child’s brain is developed by age 5, and that pre-kindergarten helps prepare impressionable youngsters for success.

He said he saw such results in his own family.

“My daughter, who went to pre-kindergarten, was a lot sharper and ready to go,” said Mr. Kaine, whose three children attend Richmond public schools.

Mr. Kaine cited a study that showed children who attend a pre-kindergarten program are 19 percent less likely to repeat a grade, 15 percent less likely to drop out of school and will earn an average 35 percent higher salary than those who did not attend such early education programs.

Under the proposal, the state would create local advisory councils to help implement “Start Strong,” he said.

Mr. Kaine said education officials from across the state tell him their pre-kindergarten programs are full and ask for more funding to expand them.

The General Assembly in 1995 started the Virginia Preschool Initiative to match with state dollars localities that establish pre-kindergarten programs.

Mr. Kaine’s proposal drew criticism from his Republican challenger, Jerry W. Kilgore, the former attorney general.

Kilgore spokesman Tim Murtaugh, who attended Mr. Kaine’s town-hall meeting, repeated the Kilgore campaign’s line that schools in Richmond were ranked the worst in the nation when Mr. Kaine was the city’s mayor.

Mr. Murtaugh touted Mr. Kilgore’s plan to “Recruit, Retain and Reward” teachers. Mr. Kilgore proposed that plan in the spring.

Part of that plan would establish merit-based pay raises to reward outstanding teachers and to aggressively recruit the “nation’s best.”

“We will pay the better teachers more,” Mr. Murtaugh said, criticizing the Kaine plan as giving the “same old lockstep pay raises across the board.”

Independent candidate H. Russell Potts Jr., a Republican state senator from Winchester, had no immediate campaign response last night.

Last year, Mr. Kaine and Mr. Potts supported a $1.38 billion tax plan that included both tax increases and cuts.

Mr. Kilgore opposed the plan, which invested more than $1 billion in public education.

Mr. Kaine also said yesterday that as governor he would ensure all Virginia teachers are paid the national average and he would require they are evaluated on a regular basis.

“It’s way past time for Virginia to make a commitment that our teachers should be paid at the national average,” he said, as the crowd cheered. “We can attract the best and brightest.”

Virginia teachers are the lowest paid in the region, according to a National Education Association survey released earlier this year.

The national average is $46,752. Teachers in Virginia are paid an average salary of $43,655. Teachers in the District are paid an average salary of $57,009, and those in Maryland are paid an average salary of $50,261.

Mr. Kaine repeated his campaign pledge to require the legislature to fully pay for the state’s commitment to the Standards of Quality, which are state regulations for funding quality K-12 education.

Other elements of Mr. Kaine’s plan build upon reforms put in place by Gov. Mark Warner, a fellow Democrat.

He is proposing to push for higher high school graduation rates and more student participation in advanced placement classes.

He also said he would fully fund higher education and continue to campaign for opening a four-year university in economically challenged Southside Virginia.

Mr. Kaine also announced a “pet project” in which he would get private donations to create a “Governor’s Community Service Scholarship.”

It would reward students who choose to attend college to become nurses, teachers and police officers.

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