Third time a charm? State again seeks federal preschool funding

Gov. Malloy visits a preschool classroom in Meriden

Jacqueline Rabe Thomas / CT Mirror

Gov. Malloy visits a preschool classroom in Meriden

Connecticut leaders are asking the federal government for $47.6 million so hundreds of foster and homeless children can attend a high-quality preschool.

Though children from all families in poverty will be eligible for the expanded preschool program, the state says it will give priority to children who are homeless or in foster care. “Particular focus will be on ensuring that these children have access to high-quality preschool,” the application states.

“The impact of homelessness on a child’s success in school and in life may be devastating,” the request reads. “By providing high-quality preschool education to children, we establish a consistent place to learn and thrive and help support the child and their family in preschool and through the transition to kindergarten through third grade.”

There’s no question there’s a void in getting these vulnerable children into preschool.

More than half of preschool-aged children in foster homes – 220 children — were not enrolled in preschool at the start of the 2013-14 school year, according to the Department of Children and Families. At some point during that same year, 1,113 children age 5 and younger lived in an emergency homeless shelter or in a transitional housing program.

The federal money would allow Connecticut to expand preschool in 14 cities and towns where existing, state-funded programs are unable to serve hundreds of children each year.

Preschool need and homeless children in Connecticut towns seeking more federal funding.
Community 4-year-olds in public schools Pct in publicly funded preschools Preschool spaces (ages 3 & 4) Unmet need (2014) Homeless kids in public schools (%) High-quality spaces to be added
Bridgeport 1603 71% 1629 1070 0.40% 180
Derby 75 56% 58 103 0% 17
East Haven 41 14% 39 209 0% 18
Griswold 37 31% 47 44 0.40% 12
Groton 77 13% 86 133 0.30% 0
Hamden 206 32% 82 327 0.10% 18
Hebron 10 21% 18 88 0% 9
Killingly 77 41% 79 73 1.80% 18
Manchester 128 15% 80 178 0% 36
Naugatuck 128 34% 76 193 0% 43
Seymour 14 9% 13 137 0.20% 5
Torrington 202 58% 81 204 0.90% 42
Vernon 126 37% 108 163 0.50% 21
Wolcott 12 13% 20 90 0% 9
Source: Connecticut Office of Early Childhood

For example, while the state funded 82 preschool seats in Hamden last school year, the “unmet need” there was 327 children.

“The reality remains that one Connecticut child in every four enters kindergarten without the skills, knowledge and behavioral skills needed to succeed,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wrote in a letter attached to the application, prepared by the state Office of Early Childhood. The “proposal reflects Connecticut’s belief in our fundamental responsibility to provide an opportunity for all children to succeed.”

This is the third time the state has asked the federal government for money to improve the state’s early childcare system. The state’s previous requests were denied federal funding – with judges giving Connecticut’s plans a C last fall.  But the Malloy administration and lawmakers have pushed forward with efforts to expand and improve early childcare programs.

Earlier this year, lawmakers approved a plan that will enroll 6,000 additional students in quality preschools over the next four years. The legislature also passed a law that requires the state Department of Children and Families to adopt policies and procedures to maximize the enrollment of foster children in preschool and to report back to legislators by Jan. 1.

“This just compliments all the work Connecticut has been doing,” Diana Lejardi, the spokeswoman for the state’s Office of Early Childhood, said during an interview. “This will help us get to our ultimate goal of closing our achievement gap through high-quality preschool.”

The federal money would fund enrollment of 428 more 4-year olds in high-quality preschools and improve the quality of programs for another 284 children starting next school year. In Bridgeport, it would mean 18 new high-quality classrooms serving 270 children next school year. Torrington would get to enroll 80 more children.

See where the expansions will take place in each city and town here.

To ensure the programs are high-quality, the state is promising that every teacher will have a bachelor’s degree, each class will have one instructional staff for every nine students and most of the new seats will be in 10-hour, year-round preschools. The teachers will also be paid the same as local public school teachers.

The state is expected to find out whether it won the funding on Dec. 10. Connecticut is competing with 26 other states for $160 million available.

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