JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT
AN ACT CONCERNING EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION.
Joint Favorable Change of Reference to Appropriations
SPONSORS OF BILL:
Black and Latino Caucus
REASONS FOR BILL:
This bill arises out of an effort to reduce and eventually eliminate the growing achievement and preparation gap in the State of Connecticut. This act would create a phase-in plan, for statewide access to School Readiness for all eligible three and four years olds, which would take effect on July 1, 2014 and conclude on July 1, 2017. This act will also require state phase-in funding for the program over a period three years. Such funding will be based upon a plan which will be developed by the Education Commission on July, 1 2013. The act is specifically targeted to give assistance to low-income and struggling families across the state. It is estimated, that statewide, there are about 10,000 children between the ages of three- and four-years old, living in households that are earning under 75 percent of the state median income and who lack access to early childhood education. By granting all students the opportunity to have access to early childhood education, the state will be taking a proactive measure to effectively eliminate the growing preparation gap. According to the High Scope/Perry Pre-School program, “greater access to an improved quality of preschool has been found to be associated with lower rates of special education, higher achievement, and subsequently higher graduation rates, which in turn generate a plethora of economic and social gains over the lifetime of those graduates.”
RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:
Stefan Pryor, Commissioner, State Board of Education testified in support of S.B. 300 and labeled it as “an important down payment on out shared long-term goal of achieving high-quality, cost efficient universal pre-K.
NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:
Julia Case, Capitol Region Education Council expressed his support for S.B. 300 and stated that CREC believes that it will “go a long way towards closing the enormous preparation gap that exists when students begin school at age 5.” Many studies have shown that there is a “measurable” difference between preschool and early childhood education, and according to Ms. Case, “this difference can be as dramatic as the difference between schooling and no schooling.” By granting all students the opportunity to have access to early childhood education, the state will be taking a proactive measure to effectively eliminate the growing preparation gap. Lastly, Ms. Case and CREC expressed strong support for the section of the bill that “ensures early education providers are held to the same high standards as our public schools.”
Frank Carrano and Dianne Kaplan de Vries, Ed.D., Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding exclaimed that “CCJEF strongly supports this bill and notes that its praiseworthy contents lay an essential foundation for the state to meet its constitutional obligation to ensure an adequate and equitable education for all children.” According to the High Scope/Perry Pre-School program, “greater access to an improved quality of preschool has been found to be associated with lower rates of special education, higher achievement, and subsequently higher graduation rates, which in turn generate a plethora of economic and social gains over the lifetime of those graduates.” CCJEF did raise some funding concerns in relation to the bill. Mr. Carrano stated that in order for this bill to be a “success,” “adequate, predictable, and sustained long-term state funding will be essential.”
Allison Polesel, University of Connecticut - School of Social Work (Student) expressed her support for S.B. 300 because “a child is at his or her most impressionable in the first five years of life and public kindergarten does not begin until age five.” While Ms. Polesel believes that private pre-schools are beneficial to the community and are extremely helpful in providing quality early education to children, she did note that “preschool programs are not free and public, like the latter grades.” As a result, because many children's families cannot afford the extra cost burden that private preschools present or because many parents simply cannot take the necessary time off from work to transport children to and from school, a significant number of the state's children continue to miss out on early education and are less prepared when they arrive in kindergarten.
Bart Russell, Connecticut Council of Small Towns stated that while the Connecticut Council of Small Towns “supports the intent” of S.B. 300, they are concerned that the bill “will impose another unfunded mandate of municipalities.” Mr. Russell, expressed appreciation that the bill “recognizes the need for supporting access to pre-school programs for eligible students in all Connecticut town and not just priority school districts,” but stressed the fact that implementing a program as extensive as this would present bring with it huge costs, such as those that are associated with “building expanding, and furnishing schools and classrooms, hiring qualified teachers, transporting students, developing curricula, and purchasing supplies.” While COST does support the goal of providing all of the states students with access to early childhood, it is a fact, that at this time many of the state's towns continue to face difficult budget years and “are struggling to adopt budgets that will continue to provide core academic programs for K-12, and therefore, Mr. Russell urged the Committee “to carefully consider the costs of expanding access to school readiness programs and determine whether the state is in a position to commit to fully funding those costs.”
Roch J. Girard, Connecticut Federal of School Administrators expressed full support of S.B. 300. Mr. Girard also expressed some “concern” about whether or not the state would be providing the proper funding for the programs created in the bill. He argued that unless the state also provides funding for the programs, the bill will become just “another unfunded mandate.”
Louis W. Bach, Connecticut Business & Industry Association expressed support for S.B. 300 and declared that “CBIA's position has been that increased access to pre-K is a vital component of meaningful reform and that, done right would be predicated on implementing a quality rating system and then expanding access within budgetary constraints.” Mr. Bach argued that eligibility for the program should be determined based upon the financial needs of a student's family and not on a student's geographic location or school district. Mr. Bach argued that parents should be allowed to choose an appropriate pre-school program for their child.
Sarh Esty and Cyd Oppenheimer, J.D., Connecticut Voices for Children Expressed strong support for S.B. 300 and it's recognition that early care and education is needed “across all of Connecticut's 169 cities and towns, not just in the 19 priority and 45 competitive school districts that are currently able to access School Readiness funding.” Ms. Esty pointed out that in Connecticut, it is estimated that about 10,000 three and four year-olds in struggling families do not receive any state subsidy to assist with early care and education. Furthermore, current “research shows that high quality early care programs help to close the preparation gap for low-income children, and are a critical part of closing the racial and economic achievement gaps in Connecticut. By lending support to this bill, the Legislature would be taking an important step in ensuring that more children have access to the quality early childhood education that they deserve.
Sharon M. Palmer, AFT Connecticut proclaimed support for S.B. 300. She asked the Committee to make a couple minor changes to the bill, specifically, reducing the number (2000) of charter school slots, and increasing the early childhood slots to 500 because she argues that “the more children we can move into a high quality, affordable program, the faster we will close the achievement gap.”
Middletown School Readiness Council offered its support for the “intent” of S.B. 300, however, expressed doubts that the 500 new preschool spaces that the Governor has included in his budget will be sufficient in its goal to eliminate both the growing preparation and achievement gaps in the State. The council urged the Committee and the Legislature to “develop and implement an affordable, longer term plan to provide all of Connecticut's low-income preschoolers an educational opportunity prior to kindergarten.”
Bob Mitchell, Connecticut Association of Boards of Education proclaimed “strong support” for S.B. 300 and stated that “access to a quality preschool program for all needy children is a critical component of closing the achievement gap.
Maggie Addair, Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance expressed the CECA's support for the “goal” of S.B. 300 and stated that “Connecticut cannot afford not to ensure that all children, regardless of income, have access to quality early care and education.” According to the Connecticut Voices for Children, there are currently an estimated 10,00 children between the ages of three and four, that are living in households under 75% of the State Median Income who do not have access to preschool. Ms. Addair praised the bill and stated that “this bill recognizes that there is an unmet need across all of Connecticut's 169 towns, not just the priority and competitive school districts.” Lastly, she urged the Committee, to address the topic of economic and racial integration.
Mary Loftus Levine, Executive Director, Connecticut Education Association expressed support for the state's effort to establish universal access to preschool, however, stated that the CEA does not support the sections of the bill (Sec. 1, (B), (2), (A)-(C), (3), and (4)) that are concerned with standards and credentials for those “teaching and working with out youngest and most venerable students.”
Susan Corrice, Parent and Early Care and Education Provider testified in support of S.B. 300 and proclaimed that “we cannot have universal success in schools without universal access to education in the earliest years.” She urged the legislators to consider implementing a regional program with regional funding, because this would lead to “greater diversity for our children and much greater success.” She stressed the notion that learning does not start in preschool but that it begins at birth and, therefore, low-income infants and toddlers should have access to quality infant care. In order to have successful preschools and elementary school, Ms. Corrice stated that the State must continue to fund infant/toddler care and education programs. Lastly, she praised the bill for extending funding to all cities and towns in the state and not to just “priority” and “competitive” school districts.
Jillian Gilchrest, Connecticut Association for Human Services testified in support of S.B. 300.
Darlene C. Ragozzine, Connecticut Charts-A-Course exclaimed support for S.B. 300 and acknowledged that this bill would call for increased qualifications for all levels of staff working in its programs. In order to meet the goals of the bill, Ms. Ragozzine stated that the State would have to (1) “increase the financial support for the professional development for teachers, especially those working with our highest need children and families;” (2) expand professional development and workplace practices that support professional development activities;” (3) create greater access to higher education by offering programs that are creative, flexible, articulate and build among one another and take into account work schedules and culture of adult learning;” and (4) identify current and new ways to increase compensation and provide teachers with commensurate pay parity with their education level.
NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:
Reported by: David A. Giglio
Date: March 19, 2012