Proposal for new preschool agency off the table for this year

In the face of a move toward agency consolidation, Sen. Beth Bye has dropped her efforts to to create a new department to manage early education and daycare programs, and instead hopes to consolidate them all under the State Department of Education.

“They’re not into starting a new agency, I get that,” Bye said Thursday. “But I think we staked out a place and case for better organization” of the state’s programs.

Bye has shifted her aim to moving the programs that serve about 70,400 young children a year, now managed by four different state agencies, into the SDE. She said she envisions having some of the programs transferred this year, followed by a study of how to move the rest.

“I’m feeling good about this,” she said. “There’s agreement that we need a better system then what we have now.”

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has been clear that he does not support creating a new Department of Early Education and Child Development–at least not now. The budget deal agreed upon last week did not include the new agency, and instead significantly reduces the number of state agencies through consolidations.

Bye and early childhood advocates argued that their proposed $251 million agency would not have required more resources and staff and would have reduced duplicate work being done in the offices that currently oversee programs for young children.

“I didn’t see this as increasing the number of positions. I see this as it better using the employees we have,” Bye said.

Cyd Oppenheimer, a senior policy fellow with Connecticut Voices for Children, said the decision not to reorganize how these programs are run this year is disappointing, but she is optimistic change is not far off.

The “underlying issues of duplicate reporting requirements, multiple funding streams, inadequate parent outreach, insufficient quality control, inadequate attention to workforce development and poor data collection and analysis” will remain, she said. “It’s time we come up with a high quality framework to make sure these programs have what they need.”

Bye said while having an agency dedicated to all things early childhood was ideal, gradually moving everything into one existing agency could solve the same problems. The budget deal does move some of the state-funded programs–which have 4,500 children enrolled–into the control of the SDE, but many other programs that the state funds but doesn’t operate remain spread across the various agencies.

Kathy Queen, the co-chair of the directors’ panel of state-funded daycare centers and director of the Wallingford Community Daycare Center, said while she understands the intent of moving her center to the control of the SDE, she’s convinced the problems of having a hodgepodge system remain.

“I don’t care where they move us, let’s just make it work correctly,” she said. “I’m not a rocket scientist but I can read the handwriting on the wall that something needs to change.”

Bye expects to have the substitute language for her proposal next week. The State Department of Social Services released a draft “Child Care and Development Fund Plan” earlier this week that aims to better organize and utilize federal funds for the state’s programs for young children under a “lead agency”.