Our work has been about change from the start. At times the evolution is slow and incremental; at other points, there has been more visible, rapid change. As we move toward a new period in the evolution of Virginia’ early childhood system, it is important to recognize where we have been and how far we have come.
Created in 2005, our early years were focused on start up and building out of the local early childhood systems building efforts, which we call Smart Beginnings. Thanks to public and private investments, we experienced a rapid period of growth resulting in Smart Beginnings serving more than 100 jurisdictions across the Commonwealth.
After this period of expansion, to strengthen and integrate our systems-building work, VECF reflected on lessons learned. Starting in 2012, we created a new strategic plan, developed our Core Principles and focused on building the capacity of Smart Beginnings to identify policy and practice barriers and implement strategies to address barriers, serving as vehicles for innovation. At the same time, VECF began to strengthen connections with state level leaders in both the executive and legislative branches. We influenced the creation of a joint legislative subcommittee to look at reform of Virginia’s preK program and were named in the legislation to bring resources to that effort. We also helped land Virginia’s initial $70M federal grant for preK expansion and reform.
2017 ushered in yet another phase of growth and developmental progress for us as we leaned into the creation of the Mixed Delivery grants initiative to try to solve for the barriers and increase access to public preschool for Virginia families. We gave an assist in the creation and leadership of the School Readiness Committee in statute to bring focus to the early educator workforce and we’ve continued to serve in leadership roles with the ongoing federal preschool development grants.
Much of our work has informed and strengthened the critical local and regional infrastructure that underlies an equitable early childhood system but we have long called for more sturdy leadership, accountability, and transparency from the state-level early childhood system. Working in partnership with diverse early childhood stakeholders, VECF successfully pushed for the passage of the School Readiness Act of 2020 resulting in a consolidated governance structure for early childhood that will better yield the results we seek for Virginia’s young children and the infrastructure that supports them.
Today, as the dual crises of the pandemic and racial injustice compel us to rethink how we approach our work, we are committed to leading a change movement that will deliver a strong regional network, Ready Regions, to ensure that every Virginia region, family, and child can thrive and to championing assertive advocacy for equitable opportunities for every Virginia child.