Foley promises not to cut early childhood funding

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley said Thursday that despite the huge deficit the state faces, he would not cut the amount the state spends to subsidize daycare for low-income families, Head Start and other early childhood education programs.

“We will not solve the budget deficit on the backs of our young people. … That is an investment. We are not going to cut back on that,” he said during a forum hosted by the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance event in Hamden.

Foley promises not to cut spending for early childhood programs

Early education advocates Ann Pratt and Maggie Adair talk to Tom Foley

Responding to his promise, the room full of about 75 leaders from numerous school systems, childcare centers, and early childhood regional organization across the state, erupted in applause.

“It’s the subsidies that make these programs possible,” said Paul Wessel, director of Connecticut Parent Power, an organization of parents around the state that advocates for children’s issues.

Connecticut Voices for Children reports, based on preliminary estimates, that the state spent $213.8 million in fiscal 2010 on early care and early education programs — a 6 percent drop from the previous year and an 11 percent decline since 2002, adjusted for inflation.

Foley’s remarks come one day after the state Department of Social Services announced fewer children will be eligible come Nov. 6 for childcare subsidies through the Care 4 Kids program.

David Dearborn, spokesman for DSS, said the decision was made because increased enrollment would make it difficult to stay within the $104 million allocated for the program for the current year.

There are currently 21,000 children in the state receiving a subsidy for childcare. This new rule lowers the income threshold for families to qualify from $76,000 for a family of four to $51,000. The Care 4 Kids Advisory Committee in September estimated that 7 percent of the Care 4 Kids budget was being spent on children from this income bracket.

Kathy Queen, director of Wallingford Community Daycare, told Foley the subsidy is critical, and urged him to go beyond just holding the line to increase funding.

“The education gap starts before kindergarten,” she said. Almost one-third the 100 children at her center receive a subsidy.

Kathy Queen

Kathy Queen, director of Wallingford Community Daycare, urges Foley to increase spending for daycare subsidies

The early childhood alliance reports that almost 80 percent of the children in the state attended preschool during the 2006-07 school year, the most recent year reported. However, in urban areas the percentages are much lower — 65 percent in Bridgeport, 68 percent in Hartford and 60 percent in Waterbury — than in higher-income areas where percentages are in the mid-90s.

Foley responded by saying he hopes whatever “wasteful” spending he is able to eliminate in state government, “we could save that money and use it for programs like these.”

But child advocates aren’t hopeful funding will increase anytime soon, or even that Foley will be able to keep his promise to fund these programs at current levels.

“I don’t see how you can balance a budget with no cuts to early childhood, municipal spending … I don’t see how that’s going to happen. I wish I could,” said Maggie Adair, deputy director or Connecticut Association for Human Services, said during an interview after the forum. “We have to start talking about revenue too.”