Marijuana legalization, which was just passed by the General Assembly, presents a rare opportunity for society to right decades of wrongs. When Governor Northam proposed legalization he included a bold idea to fix generations of inequity in the Commonwealth by requiring that forty percent of the tax revenues be used to fund Virginia’s popular, but underfunded early childhood education system.
As a former legislator, member of the state board of education and local official, I know all too well that economically disadvantaged children are more likely to show up to kindergarten underprepared for school. New data from the University of Virginia tells us how much of a challenge this is.
In northern Virginia, as many as 49% of Alexandria kids, 31% of Arlington kids, 46% of Fairfax, 33% of Loudoun and 44% of Prince William County kids all show up to kindergarten unprepared for success. Outside of Northern Virginia the numbers are similar, rising up to 59% of Richmond City kids and 66% of Northampton kids not being ready. The state average is a depressing 44%. We also know that a disproportionate number of economically disadvantaged families come from black and brown communities.
These children all lack key literacy, math, and social skills to excel in school. They are at a considerable disadvantage to their peers from more well-off families. No child’s potential for success should be governed by their economic status. Yet, strikingly, there are over 20,000 young children and families who need support to enter school with all the tools they need to learn.
Young children of economically disadvantaged households carry their lack of Kindergarten readiness throughout their school careers perpetuating a cycle of inequity and academic set-backs that continue to plague our economy and society.
With legalization slated to start in 2024, the new market for marijuana is slated to provide the funds that can help right the wrong of systematic school readiness failures. For years voters in Virginia have told pollsters that they agree we need high quality early childhood education. The political challenge has always been how do we pay for it. Well, once the marketplace is established, we will have a way.
Thanks to Governor Northam’s leadership, legalization comes with a potent policy answer to one of the most glaring areas of injustice in our education system. Patroned by Senators Lucas and Ebbin as well as Delegates Herring and Scott, SB1406/HB2312 provides a framework for legalization. Now that the bill has been sent to the governor to amend or sign, the question is not whether we will ever legalize in Virginia, the question is whether we will do it soon enough to change the academic trajectory of babies being born right now.
Rob Krupicka is a former Virginia State Delegate, Virginia Board of Education Member and Alexandria City Councilman.