Childcare providers worry their money held hostage by politics

Early childcare providers are concerned the money they currently receive from the state to care for thousands of children is going to stop flowing in three weeks, because the state budget legislators transfers money to an office that doesn’t officially exist.

The state budget shifts $127 million in funding from various state agencies into a new Office of Early Childhood Education, one of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s top priorities this year. But the office was never statutorily created, because the bill that did so was never approved by the General Assembly.

“It moves funds to an entity that does not legally exist,” said Maggie Adair, executive director of the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance. “We just want to make sure programs continue come July 1… The whole community is in disbelief.”

And officials at the State Department of Education are just as perplexed.

“We are trying to figure out what it means,” said Brian Mahoney, the agency’s budget chief.

The lack of legislative action has also become a blame game, with Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr. saying that Republican leadership “held hostage” the bill in an effort to get another bill — that would have  allowed bow hunting of deer on Sundays — approved.

“It was reported to me Republicans were holding it hostage for a completely unrelated and obscure issue: Sunday hunting,” Williams said.

But House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, said that explanation was unfair.

“The Democrats control everything,” he said, adding that he has “become the scapegoat of poor management.”

He pointed out that with Democrats the majority in both the House and Senate, they had months to get the bill approved.

“I wasn’t going to stop the early childhood bill,” he said. “To fingerpoint to my side is an absolute joke.”

Each year dozens of bills are passed as the clock runs down before the legislature adjourns, with deals commonly cut to keep business moving. Hundreds of other bills die from inaction.

But Williams said he was told during those final hours by legislators that a separate bill that would have allowed some hunting on Sunday needed to pass in the Senate in order to get the early childhood office bill approved in the House.

For whatever reason the bill was not approved, Adair said it needs to be fixed. She hopes that the governor will convene a special session to clear up the lingering uncertainty.

Another possible option may be for the governor to sign an executive order.

A 2005 opinion by then-Attorney General Richard Blumenthal found that an executive order creating a State Contracting Standards Board without legislative action will “pass constitutional and statutory scrutiny.” However, Blumenthal ruled that the authority of that office, created by executive order, was “limited”.

A spokesman for the governor said they are figuring out their next steps.

“Improving early childhood education has been a priority of the governor’s for some time. We are exploring our options,” said Andrew Doba, the governor’s spokesman.

The new office was to coordinate the hodge-podge of childcare programs in the state. As proposed by the governor, it would have been 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.

This initiative 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.