JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT
AN ACT CONCERNING THE DEVELOPMENT OF A PLAN FOR UNIVERSAL PRESCHOOL.
Joint Favorable Substitute
SPONSORS OF BILL:
REASONS FOR BILL:
Children who participate in preschool perform better in school because they are markedly
more prepared to enter Kindergarten and achieve future scholastic success than their peers who do not. SB 954 works to respond to the widening academic achievement gap in Connecticut by equalizing education for all students in Connecticut from a young age.
The bill requires the State Department of Education (SDE) and the Office of Early Childhood (OEC) to collaborate on the development of a plan to provide preschool to all three- and four-year-old children in Connecticut to start in the school year beginning July 1, 2022. SDE must provide the Education Committee with such plan and suggested legislation that may be needed to put it into practice by January 1, 2019.
The amendment to this bill strikes all of line 2 and states that the State Department of Education must collaborate with the Office of Early Childhood, the Early Childhood Cabinet, and “two providers of private preschool programs.”
RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:
Dianna Wentzell, Commissioner, State Department of Education (SDE)
Commissioner Wentzell testified on behalf of SDE in support of the development of a universal preschool program. However, the Commissioner stated that the timeline provided for the development of a plan for universal preschool is “ambitious” and noted that a universal preschool could be a financial burden on certain districts dependent on federal or Alliance funding. SDE is willing to work on a plan and make recommendations for a more achievable goal.
Connecticut Education Association (CEA)
CEA provided testimony supporting the provision of a universal preschool in the interest of providing access to quality education for young children throughout the state. The benefits of early childhood education are well-established, and increased access would ensure better school-readiness for Connecticut's children, especially of low-income families.
Although the bill is a step in the right direction, CEA recommends that the input of the Office of Early Childhood be equal to that of the State Department of Education in developing a plan for universal preschool, and that the input of parents, educators, and community service providers be solicited as well. CEA also recommends the bill to require a sustainable funding for universal preschool.
Steven Hernández, Executive Director, Connecticut Commission on Women, Children, and Seniors (CWCS)
Mr. Hernández submitted testimony on behalf of CWCS in support of S.B. 954. He notes that the effectiveness of universal pre-school for 3 and 4 year olds in addressing the early gap in
learning readiness has been amply demonstrated in studies both in Connecticut and in other States. Mr. Hernández claims that universal early childhood instruction will be a “crucial strategy” in narrowing the wide academic achievement gap in Connecticut.
Gwen Pastor, Policy Analyst, Connecticut Association for Human Services (CAHS)
Ms. Pastor testified on behalf of CAHS in support of the intent of S.B. 954. She notes the studies that show that high quality preschool education programs lead to higher achievement test scores, lower rates of grade repetition and special education, and higher educational attainment. However, CAHS believes the plan for universal preschool should be created primarily by the Office of Early Childhood (OEC) rather than the State Department of Education (SDE). OEC has the necessary expertise and personnel to create a preschool system that will best serve all young children, toddlers, and infants, and their families.
Cheryl Sharp, Deputy Director, State of Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO)
Ms. Sharp testified on behalf of CHRO in support of S.B. 954. She notes that rom the ages of three to four, children's brains develop at an incredible rate and lay the foundation for future learning. As a result, students who attend a pre-k program score higher on reading and math tests than children receiving parental care or who attend a non-academic child care center. Moreover, a universal preschool would especially benefit minorities and lower socioeconomic classes. This would in effect equalize education opportunities for all students and fulfill the state's constitutional obligation to provide schoolchildren with a substantially equal educational opportunity.
NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:
Jonathan Lee Anderson, Legal Intern, and Zoe Stout, Senior Staff Attorney, Center for Children's Advocacy (CCA)
Mr. Anderson and Ms. Stout submitted testimony on behalf of CCA supporting S.B. 954 as a proactive and wise investment in the education, equity, and economy of Connecticut. CCA further stated that it has been demonstrated that children who attend preschool perform better when they enter kindergarten than their peers who did not attend preschool, and provided examples supporting this statement in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Oklahoma, all of which have universal preschool programs. CCA also provided data supporting the claim that preschool equalizes socioeconomic groups in education, and stated that the provision of universal preschool is an economic benefit to the state. If we put the state's most vulnerable citizens on education parity with their wealthier peers, then the state would effectively create a vastly more educated citizenry, a more flexible workforce, and a more attractive state for businesses to grow and move to.
Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM)
CCM provided testimony expressing support of the intent behind S.B. 954, but stating that the organization is concerned about funding a universal preschool and its potential fiscal impact of the proposal on the state. CCM requested that the State Department of Education (SDE) point to a source for funding universal preschool and that SDE and the Office of Early Childhood (OEC) collaborate with local municipalities and districts while planning a proposal for universal preschool.
Helene Figueroa, Director of Child Care, CSEA/SEIU Local 2001
Ms. Figueroa testified on behalf of her union in support of S.B. 954 with the caveat that the universal preschool must include care for infants and toddlers. The state created the Office of Early Childhood to inform, plan and implement a system of early childhood supports for all CT families, and the system we develop should not set apart the infants, toddlers and preschoolers. A child's brain develops most rapidly before they reach the ages of 3 and 4, and it is thus imperative that the universal preschool system includes care for this age group as well.
Merrill Gay, Executive Director, Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance
Mr. Gay testified on behalf of the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance in support of the development of a universal preschool. However, he urges that the Office of Early Childhood (OEC) be in charge of developing the plan for universal preschool instead of the State Department of Education (SDE). The Alliance further recommends that the preschool be a blend of community and public schools.
Dr. Daniel Long, Research Director, Connecticut Voices for Children
Dr. Long testified on behalf of Connecticut Voices for Children in support of the idea of a universal preschool, but urging the Education Committee to include consideration of such a preschool on care services for infants and toddlers and to put the Office of Early Childhood (OEC) at the head of developing a plan for universal preschool instead of the State Department of Education (SDE).
NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:
Eileen Gunning Costello, School Readiness Coordinator, Danbury, CT
Ms. Costello testified in opposition to S.B. 954, stating that an expansion of public preschools will add to issues with teacher pensions. Ms. Costello further said that current public school programs' hours are not compatible with parents' work hours and that universal preschool would further complicate this problem. Ms. Costello requests that the agency leading the development of a universal preschool be the Office of Early Childhood instead of the State Department of Education.
Patti Fusco, Divisional Vice President PreK-12, AFT Connecticut
Ms. Fusco testified in opposition to S.B. 954, saying that while she approves of the idea of a universal preschool, there is insufficient funding for K-12 and she feels that the addition of preschool to education funding plans will further prevent state education from being adequately funded.
Anne Manusky, Easton, CT
Ms. Manusky testified in opposition to the development of a universal preschool, stating that there have been no education improvements made that would prepare young children for the current school system.
Reported by: Sarah Welch