Dozens of low-income parents in Wallingford were notified this month that the $40 per week in fees they pay for day care was about to spike to $300 a week. The reason: The $127 million in state subsidies in the state budget for parents and day care providers was shifted to an office that doesn’t exist, and because of that, it has no authority to spend the funding.
“We notified the parents that the fees would have to go to the market rate,” said Kathy Queen, director of Wallingford Community Daycare. “That’s 125 kids whose families cannot afford a hiccup.”
Parents and providers got relief from this sharp spike Monday when the governor signed an executive order creating the Office of Early Childhood. The order moves several preschool and day care programs — including Head Start and School Readiness — under the auspices of the new office.
“Finally putting them where they need to be in one concentrated office pulling in the same direction… is extremely, extremely important,” Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Monday morning at the School for Young Children at the University of Saint Joseph.
Malloy will appoint the new office’s executive director in the coming days, the governor’s spokesman said.
And as Malloy tests the reach of his executive authority with creating the new state office, he and many who attended the signing of the order in West Hartford agreed that legislative action is imperative next.
“Legislation needs to pass … we would like to see this sooner rather than later,” said Maggie Adair, executive director of Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance.
Political bickering on the last night of the legislative session blocked passage of a bill creating the office, a popular concept whose passage had been deemed so routine that $127 million in state funds for child care already had been earmarked in the adopted state budget for the new office.
Malloy said the adopted budget makes clear that state legislators intended to create this office, therefore giving him the authority to take what he calls an interim step until the legislature reconvenes and passes the bill.
“If we don’t act right now, organizations that are currently educating our children would not get their check. Services that we are currently providing would have to cease,” Malloy said. “But, it should not simply be done on a short-term basis by executive order. It must be done by enacting proper legislation.”
The bill — which failed to be taken up for a vote in either the House or the Senate — received near–unanimous support in three legislative committees.
Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, told the crowd in West Hartford that the legislation will win approval soon.
“I am sorry we didn’t get the bill passed as we needed, but we are going to get it done,” she said.
Rep. Tim Ackert, the ranking Republican on the Education Committee, acknowledged his support for the initiative with his applause at Bye’s promise. House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, said during a recent interview he also supports creating this new office.
“I believe there is an earnest desire to get this taken care of,” Malloy said.
This new office will coordinate what many call a confusing, expensive and burdensome hodge-podge of child care programs in the state. As proposed by the governor, this new office will be staffed by 71 current state employees in the various state agencies that are currently responsible for administering these programs in five different state agencies.
The order does not move the Birth to Three program over into the new office right away, but the new office will study the impact of such a move first. No changes were made with this order for how parents and providers will access services in this new office.
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.