- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2006

RICHMOND (AP) — An advisory council on early childhood education is recommending a pilot program for 1,000 children statewide next fall.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine met Wednesday with the Start Strong Council and applauded the approach, but said he would like to see pre-K offered to all of Virginia’s 4-year-olds before he leaves office in early 2010.

“The needs of at-risk kids will be paramount, but early childhood education benefits all kids,” Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, said. “I don’t think you do something like this in a big rollout all at once. I think you do something that builds on best practices.”

While publicly funded preschool is offered to about 27,000 disadvantaged children, Mr. Kaine wants to open it to any of the state’s 100,000 4-year-olds, regardless of family income. The program would cost about $300 million a year.

“I continue to believe that universal access is the key, but you’ll see a proposal in the budget that might be a little bit of a mixture,” he said.

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican, said it makes sense to provide preschool to children from poor families, but he doesn’t want to invest millions on early childhood education for middle- or upper-income children.

Others such as House Majority Whip M. Kirkland Cox, Colonial Heights Republican, questioned the cost, putting the price tag closer to $700 million a year.

“I have contended all along, he’s low-balled the cost,” said Mr. Cox, a high school teacher in Chesterfield County.

The 25-member council said the state also should develop standards for class size and curriculum and work with area colleges to create teacher-training programs.

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