With next year’s education-centered legislative session just around the corner, Connecticut Voices for Children released a report finding the state’s early education programs are underfunded and uncoordinated.
Studies have shown that children who receive quality care and education before kindergarten are better prepared for school and less likely to contribute to the state’s achievement gap.
“Data show that children who have access to language-rich, nurturing, and responsive caregivers in the early years are more likely to be academically and socially ready for kindergarten, less likely to need special education services or be retained, and more likely to graduate from high school and become productive members of the workforce,” the report said.
The report, released Thursday, said that state funding of early education programs this year remained about level from last year, seeing only a 1 percent increase. In 2011, the state spent about $224 million on the programs, 10 percent less than the $250 million it spent in 2001.
This year the state applied for but did not receive the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge federal grant. That program would have provided almost $50 million to strengthen ongoing state initiatives in early learning, and would have established a comprehensive, integrated early childhood education and care system focused on high-need children from birth to age five.
On Tuesday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy released an outline of his proposals for the legislative session. The governor said he would be proposing an initiative that “enhances families’ access to high-quality early childhood education opportunities.” However, it’s unclear if that means he intends to funnel more money into the programs.
Andrew Doba, Malloy’s spokesman, said the administration has built a foundation for enhancing early education and will be building on it in the coming weeks.
“The governor has long recognized the importance of early childhood education, going back to his time as mayor of Stamford where he launched a universal pre-k program,” he said in an email. “He agrees that our education system needs major reform, which is why we released a set of core principles to legislators earlier this week.”
In November, Malloy upset early education advocates when he supported a September motion by the attorney general’s office to remove pre-kindergarten education from a landmark school funding lawsuit. If the court decides to dismiss the motion, pre-school could become part of the definition of an adequate education, meaning the state would have to fund it.
But Malloy said as it’s written, the state’s constitution does not require the state to fund pre-school education.
“That does not mean we shouldn’t be committed to early childhood education,” he said. “I will note for you that in a budget deficit of $3.5 billion I actually put more money for early childhood education. So the legal position is not necessarily determinative of what we should do as a state when we can do it.”
Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, said she hopes the legislature makes substantial improvements to the state’s early education programs during the upcoming session.
“I’m hoping we’ll really make it a priority, not just something that would be nice if we had the money,” she said.
If the state wants to make real progress in closing its worst-in-the-nation achievement it will have to embrace a cultural shift that recognizes early education as an important part of childhood education. She said a recent study found that there is not much evidence the achievement gap gets substantially bigger or smaller after the 2nd grade.
“Our spending should reflect that,” she said.
Money that the state currently spends on expensive interventions into low-performing schools could be more effectively spent on pre-school programs that may make those interventions unnecessary in the future, Bye said.
“We can’t keep doing what we’re doing and expect a different result,” she said.
The CT Voices for Children report also found the state’s early education and care programs to be uncoordinated, receiving funding from various sources that demand different eligibility and reporting requirements.
The report recommended streamlining reporting requirements so early care providers only have to comply with one set of standards to meet statutory mandates. It also recommended blending the various funding sources.
Bye said most of those recommendations will be accomplished as an early childhood education bill passed last session is implemented. The bill requires a “coordinated system of early care and education and child development.”