Early childhood department needed to attack achievement gap

Connecticut, we have a problem. We’re no longer leading our nation in educational achievement, and the source of this problem begins early.

Too many of our children arrive at the kindergarten door unprepared. In 2009, 67.7% of kindergarteners from poor school districts had a preschool experience, compared with 95.9% from wealthier districts. Is it any wonder we have the largest achievement gap in the nation? We have a serious preparation gap.

Despite a slew of programs designed to address the health, safety and early care and education needs of our youngest citizens, state government has unintentionally complicated the problem. A tangled bureaucratic mess of programs, regulations and policies require people who work with our children to spend precious time and resources mired in paperwork, rather than serving the children who need them.

Currently in Connecticut, seven different state agencies, with disparate funding streams and reporting requirements, administer early childhood programs. Data collection is not standardized or coordinated, so no longitudinal studies have been or can be done. There are no uniform quality standards or a uniform quality rating system.

It’s time to get Connecticut’s children on track for future success, and do it efficiently and effectively. It’s time to consolidate the early childhood bureaucracy from seven agencies to one. Just as Massachusetts and North Carolina have done, it’s time for a designated Department of Early Childhood.

Some have questioned the creation of a new department. They have said this would be more government at a time when our budget calls for less. But, the creation of a Department of Early Childhood will streamline current services and achieve better results. The business-led Connecticut Commission on Educational Achievement called for a Department of Early Education and Care in its final report, as did two of Governor Malloy’s transition team’s working groups – the Children’s Services Working Group and the Education Policy Working Group.

Working effectively and efficiently, without redundancies and waste, a designated Department of Early Childhood would help our children become successful, contributing members of our state.

Ann Pratt is the executive director of the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance

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