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.

Jacqueline Rabe Thomas

Jacqueline was CT Mirror’s Education and Housing Reporter, and an original member of the CT Mirror staff, joining shortly before our January 2010 launch. Her awards include the best-of-show Theodore A. Driscoll Investigative Award from the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists in 2019 for reporting on inadequate inmate health care, first-place for investigative reporting from the New England Newspaper and Press Association in 2020 for reporting on housing segregation, and two first-place awards from the National Education Writers Association in 2012. She was selected for a prestigious, year-long Propublica Local Reporting Network grant in 2019, exploring a range of affordable and low-income housing issues. Before joining CT Mirror, Jacqueline was a reporter, online editor and website developer for The Washington Post Co.’s Maryland newspaper chains. Jacqueline received an undergraduate degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University and a master’s in public policy from Trinity College.

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