In part, increased support for local early childhood programs and new collaboration among providers is allowing more families to be served. Additionally, a new study has revised the service gap projections to show that the number of 4-year-olds in need has dropped from 250 to 138.
The report, which also painted a detailed picture of pre-K funding resources, was released Thursday by the Charlottesville-Albemarle Early Education Task Force.
In Charlottesville and Albemarle, the localities, federal and state governments and private funding sources spend more than $13.6 million a year on early childhood education, care and school readiness, the report showed.
Local funding is the biggest portion of that, with more than $5.6 million from the school divisions, departments of social services, Bright Stars, the Jefferson Area Children’s Health Improvement Program, Head Start and ReadyKids.
“It is very unusual to see local funding in anything but third place,” said John Morgan, a consultant with the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation, who prepared the report. “This is a lot of money and is a significant enterprise.”
“This report highlights that the idea of community is much broader than an individual geographical location. It means this region. It means Albemarle County, Charlottesville city and the collaborative efforts of those entities.”
The attendance gap, said task force chairwoman and United Way-Thomas Jefferson Area vice president Erika Viccellio, could be closed within two years, clearing the way to focus on at-risk 3-year olds.
“It’s not, ‘shut her down, we’re done’ — it’s a launch to a much bigger project,” she said.
Albemarle serves 70 percent of eligible 4-year-olds, or 251 out of 366 the report showed, while Charlottesville serves 90 percent, or 193 of 216.
“That wasn’t actually a strong perception in the community,” Morgan said. “Your goal is within reach.”
The percentage is still cause for concern for Albemarle Schools Superintendent Pam Moran.
“I think that, in many ways, it is a good news report about the local support that our community is putting behind preschool education,” she said. “I think that the challenge in it for me, for Albemarle County, is that we are only serving about 70 percent of the kids that are in need of service.”
The report was designed to identify sources of funding for area preschool programs and determine how local schools and service providers could reach more children.
Last year, the task force decided to focus on placing 4-year-olds to show that the program could work and because funds are readily identifiable from sources such as the Virginia Preschool Initiative, Viccellio said.
Getting children 3 and younger placed will be a harder puzzle to solve, she said.
“We picked 4-year-olds to give us really good actionable results for people to see, and we are making progress on that,” she said. “Then we can focus on 3-year-olds, and that is a whole different nut to crack because the funding streams are different.”
The report comes on the heels of news in August that the local United Way received a $250,000 state grant that will pay for the placement of as many as 70 at-risk area 4-year-olds in mixed-delivery — a combination of public and private — preschool programs.
As many as 30 students will be placed in programs this year, with another 40 to follow next year.
In February, a $180,000 Virginia Preschool Initiative grant allowed the placement of 25 4-year-olds in programs run by the Jefferson Area Board for Aging and Foundations Childhood Development Center.