By Jason Spencer
"Things have really changed from when I grew up," McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate for Virginia's governor, told Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada as they walked inside.
McAuliffe, a McLean resident, was at the preschool to talk about early childhood development. Little Ambassadors has a waiting list through 2016.
He laid out a fairly simple platform: All children should have access to early childhood education no matter their socioeconomic background, and kindergarten through 12th-grade curriculums need more investment so that they can build upon and reinforce skills learned in preschool, like dual language development.
"I've always said education is an investment, not an expense," McAuliffe said. "We have to make sure we're preparing our children for a 21st century economy… And it all begins with what you're doing here."
Little Ambassadors' Academy, which has about 85 children enrolled in its Lee Highway school, begins dual language programs when children first enter at age 2.
McAuliffe said he was "all in" for early childhood and pre-kindergarten education.
He talked about the need to reform the state's Standards of Learning, or SOL, tests and the need to beef up teacher pay in order to attract and retain the best educators. He also said Virginia should be teaching science, technology, engineering and math courses earlier.
McAuliffe said the key to reforming early childhood education was to explain how to pay for it.
He reiterated his support for expanding Medicaid in Virginia, which the Affordable Care Act would foot much of the bill for. Expanding Medicaid, then, would not only create jobs but free up millions of state tax dollars that could be used to invest in early childhood education, he said.
McAuliffe said $1.4 billion in tax cuts proposed by Republican gubernatorial hopeful Ken Cuccinelli could cost this state 8,000 teachers.
He said when he's able to explain the importance of Medicaid expansion, and how it allows tax dollars paid by Virginians to come back to this state, in rural and poor areas, "everybody gets it." In other words, he said, it's not just a message that resonates in Northern Virginia.
Tejada said he and Arlington County looked forward to being a partner with McAuliffe's administration, and that Arlington stood to benefit from McAuliffe's platform.
"With Terry, we will do much better than we have in the past," he said.
Arlington Public Schools' Spanish Immersion program, he said, is so popular that the school system has to hold a lottery to see which children get in.
It's highly competitive because parents realize that learning dual languages isn't just important to function in a global society, but doing — especially at an early age — helps strengthen other cognitive skills, Tejada said.