Scott and Hallquist discuss commitment to pre-K

SOUTH BURLINGTON — Vermont’s top gubernatorial candidates met last week to discuss prekindergarten education in Vermont, and the message coming from each is that pre-K is a top priority of their respective campaigns.

On Thursday at the Sheraton Hotel and Conference Center, Republican Gov. Phil Scott and Democrat challenger Christine Hallquist met at a meet-the-candidates forum hosted by Let’s Grow Kids, a campaign that exists to advance universal pre-K education in Vermont. During the event each candidate backed expanding taxpayer-funded early education. However, it appeared that some differences exist in the amount of money each is willing to commit to the expansion.

Scott said the state currently has $7 million in unanticipated online sales tax revenue that could be used for pre-K. He also specified that no new taxes would need to be raised for the program.

Photo by Michael Bielawski/TNR

SUPPORTIVE WITHIN LIMITS: Republican Gov. Phil Scott says he’s in favor of expanding pre-K and is willing to commit $7 million for the program.

“What I am proposing is to use this revenue stream to invest more in early care learning, by increasing the appropriation to the Child Care Financial Assistance Program, which we know is very successful,” Scott said.

Other further commitments, he left the door open.

“I look forward to working with all legislators and all of you in this group in trying to do whatever we can to further this goal,” he said.

During her interview, Hallquist said universal pre-K services in Vermont would cost $206 million, and to cover all households with income at 350 percent over the federal poverty level would cost $45 million. She added that, if elected, her administration would work towards a universal program.

On where the money would come from, Hallquist said she would prioritize the expansion against other state programs. She did not specify what programs might have to be cut or disbanded to make way for early education.

“You decide which programs are your highest priorities and you fund those,” Hallquist said. “And when you do that, you may sacrifice some of your lower priorities, but this is clearly one of the more important funding goals that we have.”

Photo by Michael Bielawski/TNR

STRONG SUPPORT: Democrat Gubernatorial candidate Christine Hallquist said government pre-K is necessary for two-parent working families.

Both candidates supported the notion that children strongly benefit from these programs.

“We know the child’s brain develops immensely fast from [age] zero to 5 — there’s no question about that,” Scott said. “The sooner we can get to our kids, the better off they will be in terms of their life and their future.”

Hallquist expressed the concern that a lack of accessible child care is hard on the family, especially for women. She shared how her wife gave up a career in graphic arts to wait tables at night so that the couple could take turns watching their children, ultimately giving up their time together.

“I would say it’s somewhat unfortunate that as a woman she had to give up her career,” Hallquist said. ” … So when we talk about not having child care, I would argue that it disproportionately impacts women.”

Studies undercut the notion that early childhood education benefits children when it comes to academic performance. A 2015 Vanderbilt University study of Tennessee’s early childhood program found that the students did “worse by third grade than students who had attended elsewhere.” A 2010 Head Start Impact study found that the benefits obtained by attending the program “yielded only a few statistically significant differences in outcomes at the end of first grade.”

Alyson Richards, director of Let’s Grow Kids, said her group wants every child in Vermont to have access to publicly funded early childhood education. Currently, the state offers 10 hours a week.

“We heard tonight about how this impacts women, it unlocks the workforce, it brings young people into the state, it allows us to expand our businesses,” she said toward the end of the event. “The right thing to do is to have every single child in Vermont be able to realize his or her full potential.”

Afterward Richards told True North that the program is not destined to become mandatory like conventional grade school.

“Absolutely not,” she said. “[We support] a voluntary affordable system so it’s affordable to all who need it and it’s available to all who need it.”

Richards said society needs universal prekindergarten, as a result of both parents working jobs.

“Seven out of 10 kids in Vermont alone — and it reflects the national situation — have all available parents in the workforce, whether they choose to do that or whether they must do it for their economic future. If that’s the case, where are these kids?”

She said government pre-K would not negatively affect the private sector child care industry because the program encompasses private and public centers alike.

“This program actually supports high-quality care in all settings,” she said. “The way the current system is set up, and national best practice, is called a mixed-delivery system. It can be in a school, it can be in a private center or a home. So, it can basically be public or private.”

She added, however, that strings may be attached if private sector child care centers collect this public money.

“You are governed by the same quality regulations and standards, and the money flows to you in the same way,” she said.

On the taxpayer impact, she said the dividends from improved student performance and health will pay for itself.

“That’s a lot of money for Vermont,” she said. “However, as we heard tonight, we spend $1.7 billion on education K-12 today, we spend over $6 billion in healthcare today. Major costs would be mitigated in those two systems fairly quickly if we made this investment.”

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Image courtesy of Michael Bielawski/TNR

11 thoughts on “Scott and Hallquist discuss commitment to pre-K

  1. So please clarify, why candidate is the Republican? I only see two clear Democrats with progressive agendas. How many of us didn’t have pre-K and have been successful? Pre-K isn’t the solution, education reform is. Let teachers educate.

    • Correct,one of the most powerful unions in the nation and major donor to the DNC and Leftists in the NEA.It’s in their best interest to promulgate pre K,for NEA members personally and DNC/Left.

  2. Thanks, Michael, for bringing in the two studies – of many – that show that universal pre-K has no detectable educational effects – just free day care. One further problem is that by spreading the UpreK money over all students, the ten or fifteen percent who really can benefit for some focused educational support – ESL, special ed, etc. – get essentially no help beyond custodial care. Where are the spokespersons for the needs of “the most vulnerable”?

  3. Scott is being forced to discuss the Dem/Prog agenda issues to put him on the spot.
    Hallquist is highly rehearsed on talking points on what to say.

    This is all as part of a planned strategy to put Scott on the defensive.

    Vermont needs educational system structural REFORM.

    Get the state out of education.

    Give parents a voucher and let them enroll their children in any school they want.

    If the voucher is not enough, the parents should supply the difference, not the town, not the state, not the federal government.

    Thus, the parents become interested in QUALITY AT A LOW PRICE, the AMERICAN WAY, instead of the SOCIALIST way AT A HIGH PRICE.

    Scott has already met the litmus test of no new taxes for two years.

    He deserves to be re-elected.

    Scott has to get more than 50% of the vote to be re-elected

    If Scott and Hallquist do not get 50% of the vote, the Dem/Prog-dominated legislature decides who will be governor.

    The will of the majority of the people will get ignored for political power purposes.

    • Well stated. If the “stick it to Scott” avengers are unable to see what’s in store if they split/dilute the vote we are in for it.

      You changed my mind. I hope that those with vengeance in mind can find the rationality to do likewise.

  4. Instead of laying off one teacher, because our policies have literally driven families and business out of our state, let’s make a whole new school program!

    Who’s idea was this , I bet it was lobbyists. Both parties completely controlled by Montpelier lobbyists. We need change.

  5. Interesting to note that both candidates want to SPEND the new found tax receipts from on line sales instead of returning it to the folks via lowering the sales tax, the property tax or the income tax. Typical of politicians, create ways to squander dollars by inventing useless programs. Here they are debating how much to spend on Pre-K rather then debating whether the progam is worth while. Welcome to Vermont!!!!

    • The major differences in the two is one is male and the other,beyond that they both lean left on a bit more than the other,It doesn’t bode well for Vermont or Vermonters taxes.

  6. We can do better. We can do the same for $95 per week. Better results, more love.

    I find these discussions very sexist, the man can also stay home. We have an affordability problem, housing, college education, healthcare, school funding, all of which could be substantially changed if we left the lobbyists out of the room.

    Notice how the union and lobbyists own both sides of the isle? Perhaps our biggest problem is being lobbyist run.

    We’ve come to the point where many believe government is their religion, government is their life partner, government is their to raise and pay for their children, that money form Montpelier is like manna from heaven. We’re becoming delusional in our thinking.

    Families in Vermont are tapped out, stressed out and struggling due to the many pressures our state places on the families. Vermont needs stronger families, not more state run programs.

  7. Another debate this time Pre-K, Scott said the state currently has $7 million in unanticipated online sales tax revenue that could be used for pre-K Scott also specified that no new taxes would need to be raised for the program !!.

    Then Hallquist During her interview, stated universal pre-K services in Vermont would cost $206 million, and to cover all households with income at 350 percent over the federal poverty level would cost $45million. She added that ” if elected ” her administration would work towards a universal program……spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend !!

    It’s getting easier every day !!

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