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November 15, 2010

By Lauren King
The Virginian-Pilot
© October 20, 2010

Virginia is one of 13 states chosen for a Department of Defense pilot program to improve access to early child care programs for military families.

Details of the program are not yet complete, but the hope is that military families living off base in the participating states will have access to more quality child care. A liaison will be hired to help assess child care and after-school care offered to military personnel and identify opportunities for improvement in communities where military families live, a news release said. The Defense Department could also offer assistance to programs that serve significant numbers of military children, according to a fact sheet.

"The end result is more affordable child care for military families," said Terrie Suit, Gov. Bob McDonnell's assistant for commonwealth preparedness. "And the public gets access to better quality care."

Virginia was chosen to participate because of its high concentration of military families, a network of community partners willing to work on improving education, and the existence of its Smart Beginnings programs and Star Quality Initiative.

The Star Quality Initiative is a volunteer program that awards early childhood programs one of five star levels of increasing quality. The program also offers help to improve their quality through mentoring and other assistance, said Scott Hippert, president of the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation.

The foundation was founded in 2005 as a public-private partnership with Virginia's Office of Early Childhood Development. Under three governors - both Republican and Democrat - the foundation has remained a priority.

"It's a nonpartisan issue, which is why we've been so successful," Hippert said. "It was largely led by business and education communities to strengthen the future Virginia work force."

Support from the Department of Defense proves the military is also interested in developing highly qualified personnel in Virginia, he said.

"In China, India and other countries, we're seeing the number of honor students there are more than those graduating in the U.S.," Hippert said. "I think this says a lot about Virginia's commitment to military families that we have so many positive things happening that have gotten the DOD's attention."

Virginia was scheduled to announce its selection for the pilot today during a statewide summit in Richmond with more than 200 early childhood development professionals and stakeholders.

Other states chosen to participate are North Carolina, Alaska, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Texas, Vermont and Washington.

Lauren King, (757) 446-2309, lauren.king@pilotonline.com