Startling statistics regarding the future of Connecticut’s workforce brought together early childhood education advocates and business leaders Friday for a candid conversation about the future of the state‘s children.
Connecticut business leaders heard from national experts about how only 25 percent of 17- to 24-year-olds qualify to serve in the U.S. military, most children reading well below grade level at the end of 4th grade will not graduate from high school, and a majority of 4th and 8th graders are not proficient in both math and reading in any state.
But statistics won’t solve the problem, which national and state experts outlined as an alphabet soup of programs with little coordination or coherence for children from birth to five. Complicating matters is the fact that financing for these programs comes from the private, local, state, and federal level.
“This is all about the formation of human capital,” David Nee of the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund said. “The natural resources we have in Connecticut exists between our ears. That‘s what we have to offer the world.”
When Gov.-elect Dan Malloy and the legislature actually get to work grappling with the $3.8 billion budget deficit “they need to distinguish very carefully between those things that have a high future payoff and those things that are pouring money down a rat hole,“ Nee said.
Nee suggested looking at the Corrections Department and taking money from incarcerating individuals, whose only crime is being addicted to drugs, and redirecting those resources toward early childhood education.
Karen Foley-Schain, executive director of the Children’s Trust Fund, said her organization understands that “good quality child care,” involves not only the child, but the parent.
She said her organization’s Nurturing Families Program has about 125 workers making 2,000 visits to families each year. Half of the population of mothers participating in the program are teenagers so a significant time is spent in the home teaching the parent with their developmental issues.
Foley-Schain estimated that of the approximately 40,000 births each year in the state about 10,000 of those children are born to families with at least one serious risk factor for abuse or neglect or poor outcomes. She said this means her program only serves about 20 percent of those 10,000.
Nee suggested there needs to be a point of coordination for early childhood education so more children can be served and funding streamlined.
“There certainly needs to be a point of coordination in state government where all of this comes together because so many agencies are involved,” Nee said.
Soon-to-be state Sen. Beth Bye of West Hartford said during her 30 years working in early childhood she sees how money is spent in all these different “silos.” There’s the School Readiness program, Headstart, Department of Children and Families, local school districts, and state Education Department funding.
“It’s very hard to coordinate it all, but that’s why I’m so excited about Gov.-elect Malloy,” Bye said Friday.
Bye, who worked with Malloy in Stamford, said as mayor he streamlined early childhood education efforts and as a result was able to offer every four-year old access to pre-school. He has said as governor he would continue working on those efforts statewide.
Malloy’s track record is also encouraging to volunteers like Bryan Flint who works with the Vernon Community Network and the School Family Community Partnership in Vernon.
He said there are 33 agencies delivering some element of early childhood education in Vernon which has a population of about 30,000 people.
“Death to silos,” Nee said. He said the Annie E. Casey Foundation is working at the federal level to coordinate some of the federal funding coming down through the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. But short of their efforts Nee opined the state should create a position for an early childhood education coordinator.
Aside from state and federal government and foundations which have funded the bulk of these programs, the business community is getting involved in early childhood education efforts,
Robert Dugger, managing partner of the Hanover Investment Group, said the business community “gets it” that is needs to be part of the solution and contribute financially to the problem. But it’s been a slow process.
One former businesswoman who says she “gets it” is former wrestling executive Linda McMahon.
McMahon, the former U.S. Senate candidate and former state board of education member, said she attended Friday’s event because she is still interested in early childhood education.
“I’m such a proponent of early childhood education and through just my short tenure on the state board really started understanding this performance gap widens so quickly,” McMahon said.
“There is opportunities for businesses to form partnerships for the growth of our education and to invest in our economy by investing in education, it‘s just going to be the way we do grow and prosper,” McMahon said. “It is pulling the business community in. I do believe it is a private-public partnership. It is an investment in our economy not only on the local, state, but on a national basis.”