Malloy backs an Office of Early Childhood

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has warmed to the idea of creating a new state agency for early childhood that will be dedicated to coordinating the hodge-podge of childcare programs in the state.

Two years ago, during his first weeks on the job, he opposed creating such an office while he was proposing consolidating the number of state agencies from 87 to 51.

Malloy early ed

Gov. Malloy proposed a new Office of Early Childhood

But legislators did not give up, and provided the funding for the governor’s policy office to hire an expert to assess the state’s early childhood landscape.

On Monday, Malloy and Myra Jones-Taylor presented their findings.

“We are proposing a system that will put these programs and services in one place,” Malloy told a crowd at a childcare center operated by Catholic Charities in Hartford.

The new office will cost the state $370,000 in the upcoming fiscal year and will be staffed by 71 current state employees in the various state agencies that are responsible for administering programs like Care 4 Kids, Birth to Three and School Readiness in various state agencies. These programs would be completely run by one office in two years and its leader would serve as a cabinet-level position to the governor.

This move comes after child advocates have been expressing concerns for years about the lack of coordination and strategy for early childhood. Connecticut Voices for Children last year reported “there is no method to the madness,” when it pointed out that the state insufficiently monitors early child care programs, and therefore doesn’t know what it’s getting for its annual investment of $224.6 million.

Malloy has been a strong advocate of early childhood education during his tenure as governor. He has routinely said that money should not price a child out of preschool when backing universal access initiatives. This year, he and the legislature spent millions expanding the number of children offered enrollment in state-funded preschool programs. The administration also attempted to land federal Race to the Top funding to pay for his early education initiatives. When the state didn’t make the cut, legislators and Malloy found the funding to create a rating system for early care programs and still offer more children spots in preschool.

Almost 6,500 students — or 20 percent — showed up for kindergarten in the fall of 2011 having spent no time in a preschool. The state’s 19 poorest districts typcially had lower participation rates in early education than their neighbors, reports the State Department of Education.

Asked if he plans to further expand the number of seats offered with state funding, Malloy said the state is “still digesting” the 1,000 new seats added last year. The education department has estimated that it would cost the state $43.8 million a year for the state to offer universal preschool in the state’s poorest districts and millions more in one-time-costs to build the facilities.

Lesly Sanchez a social worker for Catholic Charities is hopeful this new early childhood office will alleviate some of the daily stress she runs into getting her clients daycare.

“We sometimes have a really hard time figuring out how to navigate the system,” she said. “It’s hard to match them with the right service.”

Malloy said the delay is his support for a new early childhood office was so that the state would have time to get the best plan in place.

“We needed time to work it out… If you had asked me, ‘Did I believe we needed to restructure our approach to early childhood education.’ I would have agreed yes. We have actually come up with the right model with Connecticut with this process, not necessarily the model we would have chosen from the outset,” he said.

Follow Jacqueline Rabe Thomas on Twitter @jacquelinerabe