Last week state Sen. Carlo Leone (D-Stamford) paid a visit to the Palmer's Hill Child Development Center in Stamford, where he was recognized as a “Children’s Champion” by the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance for his support of multiple early childhood initiatives during the 2014 legislative session.
“Connecticut’s young learners are the best investment we can make in a strong future for our state and our nation,” said Leone. “Children who receive a high-quality early education come to school prepared for success. They have higher high school graduation rates, fewer academic issues, and are more prepared for success as adults.”
Four other Stamford legislators were also recognized at the ceremony, including state Rep. Daniel Fox, Rep. Gerald Fox III, Rep. Patricia Miller and Rep. William Tong.
“For years, we’ve worked with legislators to make early childhood a priority issue, both at the Capitol and in the districts, and we’re seeing results of that work,” said Karen Rainville, CT Early Childhood Alliance co-chair and the executive director of CT Association for the Education of Young Children (CAEYC). “The Children’s Champions stepped up this year for their youngest constituents.”
This year Leone worked with his colleagues to pass legislation establishing three new early childhood initiatives, all of which aim to increase Connecticut families’ access to quality pre-Kindergarten (pre-K) programming. The bill was signed into law by Governor Dannel P. Malloy last month.
Research has long established that children who experience quality pre-K programs have improved performance and behavior in the classroom in later years, are more likely to read at grade level, have higher high school graduation rates, and are less likely to smoke or be involved in crime in later life. Studies show that every public dollar invested in high quality early care and education can return up to seven dollars in savings through reduction of remedial and special education, welfare, and criminal justice services.
Public Act 14-41 establishes three new major early childhood initiatives. First, the act creates the Office of Early Childhood (OEC), a consolidated agency responsible for coordinating and improving the various early childhood programs and components in the state to create a cohesive high-quality early childhood system. It also directs the OEC to lay out a roadmap for realization of universal pre-K for all Connecticut children.
Second, the legislation takes a major step toward the achievement of that goal by creating 1,020 new School Readiness Program “slots” to be awarded in Priority School Districts (a group which includes Norwalk), Alliance Districts and Competitive School Districts across the state.
These “slots” provide per child funding to both public and private pre-K programming providers. The legislation increases the amount of these grants from $8,346 per year per child to $8,670 per year. Senator Leone recently announced that 37 of these new slots have been awarded to Stamford for the coming school year.
Third, the legislation creates the Connecticut Smart Start program, which will provide grants on a competitive basis to any town that can demonstrate an unmet need for preschool education with a priority focus on needy kids. The program will provide capital grants to school districts looking to create or expand preschool programs in public schools for construction or renovation of preschool classroom space, as well as operating funds for preschool programs in the amount of $5,000 per student up to $75,000 per classroom, with a maximum of $300,000 per district.
The Smart Start program will be administered by the Office of Early Childhood. Applicant towns must demonstrate an unmet need for preschool, as well as show how the municipality or district would provide preschool access to children who otherwise would be unable to enroll in a preschool program.