Last week, a proposal to create a Department of Early Education and Child Development was twice brought before the legislature’s Education Committee, at both a public hearing and an informational hearing.  At the public hearing, business and labor both agreed with early childhood advocates – the idea has merit.

“The proposed department is central to establishing effective state leadership in the drive to reform our schools,” testified the Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA).  Service Employees International Union (SEIU) testified that a department “is an important step . . . toward closing the achievement gap.”  Early childhood advocates lined up in support of a department.

Why the favorable nod to a new department at a time when consolidating and eliminating is the name of the game?  In tough budget times like these, the creation of a new department may seem counterintuitive, but in this case, the evidence is clear.  The administration of Connecticut’s early childhood efforts is fragmented and inefficient, and other states have improved results for their children, and are reaping returns, through a designated early childhood department.
What’s broken in Connecticut?

Connecticut has been a leader in early care and education. In fact, the state has a number of important programs to reach low-income children whose families could not otherwise afford the cost. But, multiple state agencies, including the Department of Education, Department of Social Services, Department of Developmental Services, Department of Children and Families, Department of Higher Education and Department of Public Health, administer early childhood programs, all with disparate funding streams and reporting requirements.  Each of these departments has an enormous mission and early childhood is lost within them. Additionally, there is little coordination across departments. Data collection is not standardized, so no longitudinal studies have been or can be done. There are no uniform quality standards or a uniform quality rating system. A tangled bureaucracy requires people who work with children to spend precious time and resources mired in paperwork, instead of serving the children who need them.

At the informational hearing, the Massachusetts Commissioner of Early Education and Care and the top early childhood advocacy organization in the Bay State agreed that creating a separate entity to focus on early childhood learning and care is reaping returns. Massachusetts was faced with the same kind of fragmented administration and lack of focus that Connecticut has, and the state faced similar budget woes.  Despite a $3.5 billion deficit, Massachusetts policy leaders had the vision to create a department to tackle the early end of the education spectrum.  Thus far, Massachusetts has found that the creation of a department has brought much-needed coordination between and among early care and education programs, efficiencies in administration, improvement in early care quality, and increased accountability.  Because of the advancements a department was able to make in the areas of quality and data collection, it is poised to be the recipient of additional federal funds.

Gov. Dannel Malloy is a champion of early care and education and he has shown that support by maintaining funding for programs despite the daunting budget deficit. We believe with this administration, great strides can be made to prepare Connecticut’s children for a better and brighter tomorrow.

In Connecticut, the creation of a department would streamline, consolidate, and gain administrative efficiencies; it would also make us more competitive for federal monies; and most importantly, it would give our children the high-quality early education necessary for life-long success as evidenced by mountains of research by academics and economists. This research shows that in the short term, this exposure has been shown to raise IQ and test scores. Children are more prepared for school and less likely to repeat a grade.  In the longer term, children who have high-quality early care and education are more likely than those without to graduate high school and go to college. They are also shown to have higher paying jobs. In addition, they are less likely to engage in negative social behaviors such as drugs and crime.  All this is great news for the child, but also great news for the state. 

Maggie Adair, is the Deputy Director of the CT Association for Human Services, and a member of the CT Early Childhood Alliance.