The wheels on the omnibus preschool bill go round and round

Updated: The state Senate passed the bill Saturday night 32-2. It now heads to the governor’s desk.

The state House of Representatives narrowly approved a bill after midnight Saturday morning that sets up a system to drastically expand enrollment in public preschools over the next decade.

The future of the bill — a top priority for Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, and teachers’ unions — was uncertain earlier in the week. Several House Democrats and Republicans raised concerns about the proposal’s impact on private day care facilities, the ability of urban districts to participate and the lack of a public hearing on the measure.

Democratic legislators made a deal late Friday to strip out the less controversial components of the omnibus early childhood bill and put them in a separate measure.

The proposal that covered the less controversial items — including state payments to expand enrollment in private and public School Readiness preschool programs and the creation of an Office of Early Childhood — passed unanimously.

The more controversial public school expansion bill won passage in the House with 79 votes — eight more than needed for the initiative to head back to the Senate for final approval. Twelve Democrats and every Republican voted against the bill.

“You can be proud of yourself for voting yes,” Rep. Sam Belsito, R-Tolland, sarcastically told members in the chamber. “It’s going to put a lot of people out of work.”

But Rep. Andy Fleischmann, the House chairman of the Education Committee, said the public preschool expansion complements the private preschool expansion the House also approved unanimously.

The Senate previously approved the omnibus bill 33 to 2, but because the House split it up, the Senate must now approve each proposal before the General Assembly adjourns Wednesday at midnight.

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