PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Just as the nation has free kindergarten in public schools, the Biden administration is promoting a plan that would bring universal pre-kindergarten to every city and town in the country.
The universal pre-K program is part of the second component in the $2-trillion infrastructure program called the American Jobs Plan. Over a decade, the second component could cost another $1 to $2 trillion.
In Hampton Roads, the demand for early childhood education is high and the supply is low, according to some program operators.
“We still only have 225 available slots per year; so we have an ongoing list of  kids. Even the City of Virginia Beach has a list as well.,” said Cardell Patillo.
Patillo runs the federally-funded Head Start program Mile High Kids and Community Development Inc. in Virginia Beach. With four locations, Patillo says Mile High and Virginia Beach City Public Schools don’t begin to meet the needs of young families who need quality childcare in order to work outside the home.
“You have some children who start kindergarten knowing basic things, then you have a whole group of other students who don’t have that,” said Patillo, who is also chairman of the Portsmouth School Board.
Patillo says generations of children who were not enrolled in quality pre-kindergarten programs have fallen through the cracks. Some, he says, never catch up and are at risk of dropping out of school before they enter middle school.
“You have to think — if you are starting behind in kindergarten, SOL [Standards of Learning] testing then begins in third grade. So you won’t have time to teach the children the fundamentals they may have missed because they did not have access to pre-K. If you don’t have children on adequate grade level by fourth or fifth grade, it’s extremely difficult to ever catch those kids back up,” said Patillo.
The GOP is creating roadblocks for parts of the massive infrastructure plan, which calls for a corporate tax increase.
Leader Mitch McConnell in a news conference last week announced it’s unlikely he will support the plan and that he will fight Biden’s broader agenda “every step of the way.”
Patillo says lawmakers should consider the cost to all of society when children fail.
“Rising crime and the inability of communities to rebuild itself. You lose children from those communities that could be successful and build those communities back,” said Patillo.
Patillo told 10 On Your Side that over the years, his program has produced children who went on to become doctors, lawyers, and engineers. It all starts by providing the right foundation, he says.
“We go above and beyond with our program. We make sure that our students actually start learning Spanish at the age of four and we teach them how to play piano at the age of four. So by the time they start kindergarten, they are already on the first- or second-grade level,” said Patillo.
Mile High Kids and Community Development, is hosting a golf tournament on May 17, 2021, to raise money for the nonprofit.