Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will renew his commitment to early childhood education by asking the legislature to approve $4 million in spending for 500 new preschool slots, and $3 million to support professional development.
In addition, he will ask it to borrow $5 million to create a statewide Tiered Quality Rating and Improvement System that will allow parents to assess programs before enrolling their children. The lack of such a system was cited as a weakness in Connecticut’s recent “Race to the Top” application.
“Even though we lost, we were able to harness the enthusiasm and expertise from the early childhood community, especially the newly reinvigorated cabinet as they now know they have a committed partner in the governor’s office,” Malloy said Thursday when he introduced the proposal.
Malloy reminded a group gathered on the playground at the School for Young Children at St. Joseph’s College Thursday to hear his proposal that’s he’s already taken steps to improve quality preschool experiences.
Last year the General Assembly passed legislation which helped create a more coordinated system of care and education. Malloy credited much of the success of the legislation to Sen. Beth Bye of West Hartford ,who was the former director of the school where the event was hosted Thursday.
Malloy also signed an executive order creating an Office of Early Childhood Education inside the Office of Policy and Management.
“This is the best invested dollar,” Malloy said Thursday.
Advocates praised the investment.
“The governor’s plan demonstrates his passion and commitment to building a solid foundation for young children in Connecticut,” Maggie Adair, CT Early Childhood Alliance executive director, said. “The proposal both increases access and improves quality of early childhood programs in Connecticut.”
Malloy has promised to create 1,000 new preschool slots by the end of 2013. The 500 new seats which Adair called “significant” will count toward that goal.
But a $12 million investment may not be big enough to help Connecticut catch up and make a dent in the achievement gap.
A Connecticut Voices for Children report released in December found that the state’s funding in early childhood plummeted over the past decade.
In 2011, the state spent about $224 million on early childhood programs, 10 percent less than the $250 million it spent in 2001.
At the time Bye said that if the state wants to make real progress in closing its worst-in-the-nation achievement gap it will have to embrace a cultural shift that recognizes early education as an important part of education.
“We can’t keep doing what we’re doing and expect a different result,” she said.
Malloy seems to agree.
“Twenty five percent of our students are entering kindergarten unprepared to learn,” he said. “Until that number is zero we still will have much work to do.”
As governor, Malloy has promised to move as “rapidly as financial circumstances will allow us to getting to universal pre-k,” but there are still fiscal pressures and a pending lawsuit.
Last year, Malloy shocked early childhood advocates when he backed Attorney General George Jepsen’s motion to eliminate preschool and early childhood education from a landmark school funding lawsuit.
“That does not mean we shouldn’t be committed to early childhood education,” Malloy said last November. “So the legal position is not necessarily determinative of what we should do as a state when we can do it.”
The attorney general’s motion is currently pending and may not be ruled on until the case goes back to trial in 2014.