(WFXR) — Early childhood education programs across the Commonwealth are expected to reach historic enrollment.

This increase is due to increased investment in Virginia’s two largest state-funded preschool programs, Virginia’s Preschool Initiative and Mixed Delivery Preschool Grant Program. Gov. Ralph Northam announced the two programs were given $151.6 million for the fiscal year 2022. This is more than twice the investment made in the fiscal year 2018.

The Virginia Department of Education’s Virginia Preschool Initiative and the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation’s Mixed Delivery Preschool Grant Program is anticipating more than 25,000 three and four-year-olds this fall.

“Access to high-quality early learning is critical for children’s development, and the Commonwealth’s investment in early childhood education is a major reason Virginia was named the best state to do business for the second year in a row,” said Northam. “Increasing school readiness is more important than ever as we recover from the pandemic, and this historic commitment puts us one step closer to offering a great start for all Virginia children.”

Across 126 school divisions, the Virginia Preschool Initiative projects more than 23,600 students for the 2021-2022 school year. Before the pandemic, the program reported about 18,000 total children in 124 divisions. This is the second year for the pilot program, which provides young kids with several years of preschool experience to prepare them for kindergarten and the rest of their schooling.

“We know that 90 percent of a child’s brain development occurs before the age of five, so high-quality early childhood education programs are a key strategy to increasing student achievement from kindergarten to after graduation,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane. “A unified approach across all early learning settings is more important than ever as we emerge from the pandemic and equip the next generation of students to succeed in the 21st-century workforce.”

The Virginia Early Childhood Foundation’s Mixed Delivery Grant Program will help nearly 1,500 three and four-year-olds across 45 localities. This is an increase from the 2020-2021 school year where the program served 239 children in nine localities.

Other early childhood programs throughout the Commonwealth are also reporting increases in student enrollment. Head Start and Early Head Start will have more than 14,400 children in this school year.

As of Monday, Aug. 16, Virginia’s Child Care Subsidy Program will have more than 20,000 children. That’s a 51 percent increase from March this year. As a result of the funding, 95 percent of licensed and regulated child care and early education programs are up and running.

The General Assembly also approved $793 million of additional American Rescue Plan funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant in August.

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