Elementary school classroom with desks and chairs for young children
Credit: Lopolo / Shutterstock

New eligibility standards require Connecticut children to be at least 5 years old by Sept. 1 to enter kindergarten, in a change which advocates argued Thursday necessitated additional state funding for preschool and childcare slots. 

In an open letter to Gov. Ned Lamont and legislative leaders, more than 100 parents, groups and providers urged state policymakers to approve $50 million in additional support to subsidize pre-K and childcare for more than 9,000 families whose children will no longer be eligible to start kindergarten.

“Telling parents their kids can’t start Kindergarten without creating new subsidized slots will freeze vulnerable families out of access to early education programs,” Courtney Parkerson, director of The Connecticut Project, said in a press release. “I don’t believe that was the intent of the law change but that will be its impact without intervention.”

The new requirement, which takes effect next year, replaces the current policy which required kindergarten students to turn 5 by Jan. 1 of the year after they entered school. State lawmakers approved the change through a bill passed this year.

The new cutoff brings Connecticut more in line with the rest of the country. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, most other states require incoming students to be 5 years old on or before Sept. 1, although some states like Maine and Colorado push the cutoff into October while others like Massachusetts and New Hampshire do not set a statewide cutoff.

Nevertheless, the advocates who signed on to this week’s letter argued the change would represent a new financial burden for impacted families, who will pay an average of $12,731 per child in additional preschool expenses. 

“We commend the spirit of this policy change which brings our state in alignment with most other states and aims to create conditions in which children enter kindergarten ready to thrive,” they wrote. “However, the short timeline and lack of resources identified to support effective implementation will have dire consequences on lower-income families, early childhood educators, and the children this policy change aims to support.”

The advocates said the new requirements would exacerbate shortages of early education slots. Already, 42 towns lacked adequate preschool seats while 122 towns did not have enough child care slots for toddlers and infants, they said. 

“We understand changing the kindergarten eligibility age, but we’re also realistic that this change will strain Connecticut’s early education programs,” Matilda Bonilla, a New Haven-based care provider, said in a press release. “Childcare providers can’t create spots out of thin air: We need time to hire and build capacity.”

Asked about the concerns articulated in the advocates’ letter, Lamont’s chief spokesperson Julia Bergman pointed to efforts the administration had already taken to improve access to child care including increasing early child care spending by 50% since the governor took office.

“Year after year, the Lamont Administration has been a fierce champion for Connecticut families, passing paid family and medical leave, expanding healthcare access, and establishing the first-in-the-nation baby bonds program,” Bergman said. “Combined with historic tax relief, affordable housing investments, and a rising minimum wage, Governor Lamont is building ladders to success for all Connecticut families.”