RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Gov. Glenn Youngkin said the Republican-controlled House of Delegates didn’t propose enough money to expand early childhood education in Virginia. He’s pushing for the final budget to more closely mirror the plan laid out by the Democrat-led Senate. 

Youngkin made the comments in an interview after a tour of River’s Bend Children’s Center in Chester, where he also signed a proclamation honoring those who work in the field. 

“I’m committed to a bigger investment and I do believe that’s what we’re going to see come out of the budget when it comes to me,” Youngkin said. “If you are kindergarten ready, you will be life ready and, on top of that, for our workforce to get moving in Virginia, we have to have reliable, quality care for our children.” 

Youngkin’s position is notable because he has generally backed the House’s budget plan. It includes more tax cuts, leaving less money for spending priorities. 

The Senate’s plan includes more than $44 million in new funding for early childhood and preschool programs compared to $6 million proposed by the House, according to a budget breakdown from The Commonwealth Institute.

“I do believe that more than the House is required and so I’ll have a chance to sit down and talk to folks as they’re working down the stretch of the budget to make sure we have plenty,” Youngkin said. “I believe this is trending towards the Senate position.” 

Karin Bowles, vice president for strategy with the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation, said both plans increase pay incentives to recruit and retain staff.  

River’s Bend Children’s Center Owner Clark Andrs said that would be a huge help. Andrs said they have space for 250 children at the center but, currently, only 70 are enrolled. 

“This, to me, is the pandemic after the pandemic. The workforce shortage. I’ve been doing this for 33 years and I’ve never seen anything like this. I have empty rooms. I have waiting lists and I cannot enroll children because I cannot hire more teachers,” Andrs said. 

Bowles said, unlike the House plan, the Senate proposal provides additional funding for mixed-delivery grants. She said that’s when public dollars are used to help eligible parents pay to enroll their children in private programs. Bowles said that flexibility gives parents more choices and allows them to pick programs that meet their scheduling needs. 

“We know that families across the Commonwealth are really struggling to find childcare, whether it’s a lack of supply in their community, which is often called a childcare desert, or whether it’s the right type of setting for their family based on their work schedule and their family needs and preferences. So this additional funding is critical to make sure Virginia families have all the options that they need,” Bowles said. 

Emily Griffey, chief policy officer at Voices for Virginia’s Children, estimates that the Senate’s plan will create an additional 200 mixed-delivery slots for infants and toddlers. 

Griffey said the Senate plan would also create an estimated 1,100 new slots for 3-year-olds through the Virginia Preschool Initiative, which provides funding to low-income families to cover the cost of early childhood education. 

Griffey said the House’s plan doesn’t allocate funding for any new slots but it doesn’t make cuts to either program.

State assistance can help make childcare more accessible to low-income families who may otherwise struggle to afford it. An analysis from the Economic Policy Institute found that the average cost of infant care in Virginia is $14,063 annually, or $1,172 per month. EPI said Virginia is ranked 10th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia for most expensive infant care.

During his speech on Thursday, Youngkin made the case for accelerating the growth of public-private partnerships in early childhood education. 

“It’s not just a model that the rest of the country is paying attention to but it’s a model that we must progress faster,” Youngkin said. 

House Appropriations Committee Chair Delegate Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach) didn’t respond to a request for comment on Thursday. It’s unclear if the House and Senate have found common ground on this spending priority during closed-door negotiations. 

The two sides have been trying to reconcile their differences for weeks since the regular session ended in mid-March and there is still no set date for when lawmakers will return to Richmond to vote on a deal. 

“This is a moment where delay is hurting our children, it’s hurting our teachers and it’s time for us to get moving,” Youngkin said.