Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wants 2012 to be the year of education reform, with a particular focus on early childhood and preschool.

His emphasis on children is long overdue and welcomed. But to date, the public discussion has barely mentioned vitally important programs that provide child care and other services for children and working families.

That has left families and providers across the state extremely concerned that education reform will come at the expense of much-needed child care that working mothers and fathers have come to rely on.

There are 102 state funded child care centers in Connecticut that have provided quality day care and support services to low and moderate income, working families for more than 40 years. The centers serve children from infancy through school-age, including before- and after-school programs, giving parents the peace of mind of knowing that their children are in a safe, enriching environment during a long and stressful work day.

Child care centers start the day before seven o’clock in the morning when parents headed to work bring their sleepy children to our doors, and end when those children are picked up, long after pre-schools and kindergarten classrooms are empty and school buildings closed.

To be eligible for the services of a state funded child care center, parents must be working, with a salary at or below $76,595 for a family of four. Parents pay on a sliding scale, and as their salaries increase, pay more. We have two important goals – to give parents the ability to leave the home to earn a living, and to provide a rich learning environment that will ensure appropriate child development and school readiness.

All of our programs are required by the state of Connecticut, to be accredited by the National Association for the Education of the Young Child, a rigorous process. Also, teachers must meet the qualifications in the school readiness laws that require an Associate’s degree by 2014 and a Bachelor of Arts degree by 2020.

When children in our care reach kindergarten age, they have a solid foundation to begin their formal years of education.  Indeed, many children in our care come to us before and after school, and get help with homework and school projects.
Child care and education services like those provided in our centers cannot be replaced by pre-school or a full day of kindergarten. Child care services are one very important part of a full spectrum of early childhood care and education programs. 

In this difficult economy, cost-effective support services that can help keep parents working are needed more than ever. One of our working, single mothers holds a good job as an executive assistant, but struggles to make ends meet, shopping at consignment stores and with coupons. Without state funded child care services, she would have to make drastic changes, and could not live independently with her three-year-old son. Hers is only one of hundreds of similar stories.

Connecticut’s child care centers are a vitally important piece of the state’s education system, and we can help Malloy realize his vision of ending the achievement gap between the state’s poor and wealthier children.

With policymakers focus on quality early childhood education and creating and sustaining jobs, it only makes sense to properly fund programs that are already doing both.

Kathy Queen is the executive director of the Wallingford Community Day Care Center, Inc. and co-chair of the State Funded Child Development Centers Directors Forum