Northam sat on the colorful rug in a classroom at Main Street, a nonprofit early-childhood education school catering to low-income students. A gaggle of four-to-five-year-olds circled around as the first lady read through a book about animal noses and Kaine broke out a harmonica to play “You Are My Sunshine.” At the end of the visit Northam said she had a gift for the students.
"What do you think I have for you?” Northam said.
“Money!” one little girl shouted.
While Northam brought decorative coins for students, the officials were visiting the schools to promote projects that could expand funding and access to early-childhood education.
In August, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced increased funding for the commonwealth’s two main preschool programs, Virginia Preschool Initiative and Virginia Early Childhood Foundation’s Mixed Delivery Preschool Grant Program. The state allocated $151.6 million for fiscal 2022, a $60.9 million increase from the previous school year.
Kaine said his visit Friday was an opportunity to express appreciation to educators who’ve worked through the pandemic, and to urge passage of the Congress budget reconciliation bill, the $3.5 trillion spending bill that would partially partially expand funding for education and child care. House Democrats are expected to work through priorities starting Thursday, when the chamber has scheduled legislative sessions to work on details of its plans.
“What we’re trying to do with this reconciliation bill is make sure that parents have more resources to pay for child care, but also that we’re putting more resources into good programs like this,” Kaine said.
Their visit comes as schools around the state — and much of the country — navigate returning crowds of students amid concerns about rising cases of the coronavirus, fueled by the highly contagious delta variant. And many school systems in the D.C. area have been tasked with making decisions about quarantining and testing students, faculty and staff for the virus, as cases emerge in the first few weeks of in-person classes.
To lessen the risk, schools in Fairfax County, which has the largest school district in Virginia, are adjusting lunchtimes by holding more meals outdoors and in different spaces. And students who are required to enter quarantine have the opportunity to watch some classes live on video from home.
“We need to have kids in the classroom. This is exactly what we need,” Helmer said. “And we’re really proud of the work from the federal level, the state level, the county level we’re doing to make sure we can be back in the classroom safely.”
As of Thursday, almost all of the 80 percent of contract staff who responded to a school survey about their vaccination status reported being fully vaccinated. Regular testing will begin in October for unvaccinated employees and for those who did not fill out the survey.
The first lady said that as she’s been touring schools, she’s seen the importance firsthand of how important it was for students and educators to return to the classroom this school year.
“We know this is where they learn best, the data is clear,” Northam said. “And you can see it in the joy and enthusiasm, not just on the students, but on the teachers as well.”