The governor is proposing that every child in Connecticut have access to preschool by 2018.
The Democratic governor’s $51.1 million a year proposal would begin in the fiscal year that begins July 1 by providing $11.5 million in new funding to pay for an additional 1,020 children from low-income families to attend high-quality early education programs.
When completely rolled out, the governor’s plan for universal preschool access would enroll 4,010 more children in early education programs.
“We know that early education is one of the best ways to level the playing field for students. We know it, because we’ve seen it firsthand,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told legislators during his midafternoon State of the State speech. “If you believe as I do that education is the civil rights issue of our time, then I ask you to join me today in taking the first steps toward making sure every child has access to a pre-k experience.”
The Republican minority leaders said during interviews that they support increasing access to early education programs but have reservations.
“I love the idea. Let’s see how we’re going to pay for it,” said House Republican Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr. of Norwalk.
“There is probably universal support for it,” said Senate Republican Leader John McKinney, of Fairfield, who also wants to see how it would be implemented before endorsing the governor’s plan.
Almost all of the additional seats will be provided for students from low-income families living in the state’s lowest-performing districts.
State lawmakers two years ago spent millions of dollars so 1,000 additional children would be offered preschool seats in the school readiness programs across the state. However, a child advocacy group recently reported that the number of children whose child care costs are partially covered by the state has since declined by nearly 600 when factoring in all the early care programs the state funds.
The governor’s budget this year would provide another $3.5 million in the coming fiscal year for the state to launch a quality rating system for day care programs that receive state subsidies and increase the frequency that home-based programs must be inspected for safety. The funding would also increase per-student funding to programs by 3 percent.
The increase in inspections follow federal auditors’ reporting last fall that every one of the home day care providers they inspected had health or safety problems. The budget would allow for staff to be hired so child care programs can be inspected annually, instead of the current once every three years.
Malloy had asked the federal government through its Race to the Top applications to pay for additional preschool seats and a rating system that would encourage child care programs to improve the education they offer by increasing state reimbursements. Those applications were not accepted, and federal funding is not expected at this time.
But that isn’t stopping Malloy with pushing forward with plans to offer more families like Tamara Jackson’s a seat in a high-quality preschool.
Jackson, a single mother from Hartford with two children under age 3, said there is no way she could afford child care without state help.
“I wouldn’t be able to work. I wouldn’t be able to go to school,” said Jackson, who sat next to Cathy Malloy, the governor’s wife, during his speech. Jackson’s son Andrew was born two month premature, and she and the governor both credit preschool to his academic success.
“They taught him to express himself through sign language,” she said of his delayed start in speaking.
“With the help of some great teachers, he’s already caught up to his peers. His experience has put him on equal footing, and given him the tools he needs to learn,” Malloy said.
“It is the one reform we know increases achievement,” said Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams Jr.