- The Washington Times - Monday, August 7, 2006

Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, attending his first National Governors Association annual meeting, said yesterday investments in early childhood education dramatically improve a child’s learning ability and could save the state money in the long run.

“We have found in Virginia that one effective predictor of a student’s future success is his or her performance on the third-grade reading exam,” Mr. Kaine told those who attended the meeting in Charleston, S.C. “Last year, 26,000 kids failed that test. My goal is to reduce that number to 10,000 by the end of my term.”

The four-day conference covered a wide range of issues, such as health care reform, education and global competitiveness.

During the gubernatorial race last year, Mr. Kaine began his push for providing all Virginia 4-year-olds access to publicly funded preschool. The move would expand access beyond the estimated 27,000 disadvantaged children already served by the program.

The program costs about $300 million a year, Mr. Kaine said yesterday.

“It’s not cheap, but right now we spend $4 in remedial education for every $1 that we spend on early childhood education, and I would kind of like to reverse the ratio,” Mr. Kaine said in an interview with C-SPAN.

For the program to become a reality, Mr. Kaine told reporters in a conference call yesterday that he first must sell the idea to the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

House Speaker William J. Howell agreed.

“I think he has a lot of selling to do on the need and demonstrate the advantage of universal pre-K program,” the Stafford County Republican said. “We spend a lot of money already on Head Start and programs for at-risk children. Virtually every at-risk child in Virginia has opportunities that the state and federal government provide in terms of pre-K. … I haven’t found any meaningful, compelling studies that say this is worth the cost.”

Mr. Howell also said that such programs tend to end up more expensive than initially thought, and suggested that localities could be forced to pay more for extra classroom space.

Delegate Brian J. Moran, Alexandria Democrat who serves as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said he supports Mr. Kaine’s plan.

“It is a real investment for the future,” he said. “The whole game is resources and competing interests. [Mr. Kaine] has to persuade and convince the legislature that this is a worthy investment. … Whether or not this General Assembly will support it is questionable. They’ve shown reluctance to support Governor Kaine’s initiatives.”

Earlier this year, the House blocked Mr. Kaine’s efforts to generate new revenue for transportation, the governor’s No. 1 priority. The House also removed nearly $22 million in additional funding Mr. Kaine proposed for projects statewide.

Mr. Kaine told reporters yesterday he hopes to garner support for the program by 2008, when he will submit his first biennial budget to the legislature for consideration.

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