RICHMOND – The Department of Defense has selected the Commonwealth of Virginia, among 12 other states, to participate in a nationwide pilot partnership to ensure all military families in active service have access to high-quality early education opportunities for their young children.

The announcement was made in Richmond Oct. 20 by the Honorable Terrie L. Suit, assistant to the governor for Commonwealth Preparedness.

Suit kicked off a two-day statewide summit organized by the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation for more than 200 early childhood development professionals and stakeholders.

The news of the innovative pilot program was applauded by summit keynote speakers Gerard Robinson, Virginia secretary of education, and retired Air Force Brig. Gen. John W. Douglass, among others.

In videotaped remarks, Suit praised the men and women in uniform who are called upon to sacrifice in many ways to protect and serve the citizens of Virginia. Speaking on behalf of Virginia First Lady Maureen McDonnell, Suit reiterated the Commonwealth’s commitment to treating military children and families with the deep appreciation and care they deserve.

"The great people in our military perform best when they know their children are being cared for back home," Suit said. "This initiative will have a tremendous impact on the ability of our military service members to ensure their children are in safe, high quality care and learning programs while they are defending our nation."

The Department of Defense created the pilot program to support the large number of military families who do not live on an installation.

The outreach initiative will collaborate with federal, state and community partners with the goal to increase access to quality affordable childcare for families of members of the armed forces.

"With many thousands of active and reserve military families currently located in the Old Dominion, Virginia was one of the first states to be considered and chosen for this landmark partnership program," said Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-31st), a board member of the VECF and a member of the Virginia House of Delegates Appropriations and Education Committees.

Del. Lingamfelter added, "The DoD was impressed that Virginia already had a strong statewide network of almost 30 community-based Smart Beginnings coalitions in place, as well as an established system to recognize and rate quality childcare programs through the Virginia Star Quality Initiative."

Both of these initiatives are supported by the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation, in collaboration with state agencies.

The DoD will appoint a child care liaison to be housed at the offices of the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation at 8001 Franklin Farms Drive in Richmond.

This appointee will work closely with the VECF and partner organizations to assess the quality of childcare and after-school care offered to military personnel and to identify opportunities for improvement in communities where military families live.

Scott Hippert, president of the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation, remarked, "Today’s young children are tomorrow’s workforce and military service members. It is an honor to partner with the DoD and its mission to improve the quality of life for military personnel so that their children will succeed in school and in life."

"We salute the commitment of our military families, which goes above and beyond the call of duty all too often," concluded Tom Chewning, former Dominion official and board chairman of the VECF.

"This innovative partnership initiative with the DoD represents our strong commitment to these families, so that they can have peace of mind about the care and education of their young children while they are keeping the peace for our state and our nation," said Chewning.