The Connecticut General Assembly passed a budget this past weekend, which -- along with two other bits of legislation -- expands access to pre-kindergarten education. Advocates have said it doesn't reach the ideal goal of universal preschool, but it's an important step in that direction.
Universal access to preschool is something Governor Dannel Malloy has pushed this year. The idea is that if parents want to send their children to a good preschool program, they should be able to do it even if they can't afford it.
The budget would fund another 1,020 spots for preschool. It pays the preschool programs more for each child to attract and keep qualified teachers. This is an important push, said Cyd Oppenheimer, senior policy fellow at the research and advocacy group Connecticut Voices for Children, because the return on the investment is very high.
"We can start at the front end by prevention," Oppenheimer said, "by ensuring that the achievement gap never even has to open, so we don't have to worry about closing it."
A study of 123 African-American children in 2005 found that those who got high-quality preschool were more likely to hold a job, had committed fewer crimes, and were more likely to have graduated from high school.
Oppenheimer said there are two other important pieces of legislation that passed this weekend. One bill formally creates the Office of Early Childhood, so all the programs dealing with infants and toddlers are now in one place, rather than being scattered throughout various agencies. Malloy created the office last year with an executive order.
The second piece of legislation creates a program called Connecticut Smart Start to help school districts establish or expand pre-K classrooms in public schools. This is for children whose parents want to send them to preschool, but can't, for cost or other reasons. The money for that is still pending, but Oppenheimer said this session shows that legislators see early childhood education as good policy.