March was a good month for many of Fairfax County’s neediest young students.
Last week, the Fairfax County Office for Children proposed a $1.2 million expansion of services to help address the lengthy waiting list for Head Start. Through grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Head Start helps localities fund comprehensive early development programs that incorporate education, health, nutrition and parenting elements.
More than 800 Fairfax children are on the waiting list for the program, which currently enrolls 1,864 children of low-income parents. It costs about $14,500 per child enrolled in Head Start, and a shortage of space and funding led to the waiting list.
We’re not sure how the waiting list on such a proven, critical program somehow swelled to nearly 1,000 kids — especially in a county with a $3.6 billion budget — but we’ll give county officials credit for stepping up and addressing it.
Investing in a child’s early development makes sense on multiple fronts, not the least of which is financial. Introducing a resource-challenged 4-year-old to academic material early on is akin to spending $30 on an oil change instead of $4,500 on a new engine a year down the road.
On a similar note, Gov. Bob McDonnell recently signed legislation that will extend some of the momentum gained in Head Start to elementary school.
Virginia schools must provide extra help to students in kindergarten and first and second grades who perform poorly on diagnostic reading tests. Schools across the state already offer reading intervention services to third-graders who demonstrate deficiencies on the state’s Standards of Learning reading test, but the new law — which was sponsored by Del. Jim LeMunyon (R-Chantilly) gets that ball rolling two or three years earlier.
Truth be told, we’re surprised this issue wasn’t addressed years ago. It certainly doesn’t take a teacher three-plus years to determine whether one of their students needs a little more reading instruction. And the difference between comprehending material early in first grade or late in third grade will undoubtedly impact course selection at the middle school, high school and, ultimately, college level.
It isn’t rocket science. By the time every Fairfax County student finishes third grade, they should be reading on a third grade level. This new law should help transform that notion from pipe dream to reality.
In a year, when much of the legislation coming out of Richmond was either too pricey or too partisan, this one hit the mark on every level.