Preschool in West Hartford

Connecticut’s young children need our help — the state’s early childhood education industry is in dire need of funding.

Prior to COVID-19, centers in Connecticut were already struggling to keep their heads above the water, and the pandemic only exacerbated the problems caused by severe underfunding of the industry. Throughout the country, this lack of affordable childcare forces many parents to stay home rather than work just to spend most of their wages on childcare.

For this reasoning, the state needs to pass H.B. 5540 – An Act Concerning Access to Affordable Early Childhood Education. This bill would amend Connecticut general statutes to give financial assistance to early childhood education centers and providers.

While this bill unfortunately did not make it out of committee this session, that does not make its provisions any less necessary for the state of Connecticut. We must ensure its progressive policies are implemented soon for our children and their education.

Child care capacity in Connecticut is down 20% due to understaffing. At Hope for New Haven, a local child care center, there are six teacher openings because wages are so low. The center is licensed to care for 97 kids, but currently only serves 60 because it is understaffed.

H.B. 5540 would create more desirable jobs and drive down the cost of childcare for families in Connecticut. Similarly, early childhood education provides a return on investment to our communities. These net benefits range from three to as many as 17 dollars for every one dollar put into education programs for young children.

Similarly, we need to think about the children in our state, all of whom deserve high-quality, affordable preschool. Research shows that preschool gives children a jumpstart on brain development, relationships, and learning. Moreover, preschool plays an important role in advancing racial equality: the Black-white school readiness gap would decrease by about 20% in Connecticut, while the Latino-white gap would decrease by nearly 36% if low-income families saw increased access to preschool.

Connecticut would hardly be the first state to pass such legislation. In 2019, at least three states implemented policies to expand access to early childhood education, recognizing the necessity of it for young children. For instance, Alabama passed a new education budget bill that funded an additional 164 new preschool classrooms in 38 counties across the state. Likewise, Colorado passed a new budget that funded universal, full-day kindergarten. New Mexico also passed a new budget that included a $29.1 million increase for its Children, Youth and Families Department budget, a $24.5 million increase for prekindergarten, and new investments in at-risk childcare and childcare educator scholarships and wage supplements.

I urge you to write to your representatives in Connecticut about this issue to ensure that it is addressed during the next legislative session. A bill such as H.B. 5540 would not only advance young children’s development and education, but also stimulate the economy and create affordable preschool options for all.

Natalie Miller lives in New Haven.