Expanding access to preschool is on the table this legislative session, and the numbers show that Latino children in low-income urban areas could benefit greatly from it.
The proposed bill would use public funds to pay for about 4,000 three and four-year-olds to attended pre-K, primarily in Connecticut’s Priority, Alliance and Competitive School Districts, which are districts the state has determined need the most support.
This means that over the next five fiscal years 1,484 Hispanic children could receive a jump-start to their education, which proponents say is a major step in helping to close the state’s achievement gap.
“The earlier they are introduced to their numbers, and letters, and colors, the better chance they have,” said Rep. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford. Rojas, who sits on the legislature’s Education Committee, said research points to the achievement gap actually starting before a child even enters school. “A lot has to do with where you were born, who your parents are, and what your economic situation is,” Rojas said.
State Department of Education statistics indicate that about one-third of Latino students in third grade are reading at grade level and about one-third do not graduate high school.
For Rojas and other advocates, like Gov. Dannel Malloy who proposed and is pushing the initiative, one way to help economically disadvantaged children is to give them the same access to education that others have. To do this though, they believe the state needs to assist parents who cannot afford sending their children to private preschools.
State Sen. Toni Boucher, ranking Republican on the Education Committee, has been a supporter of early childhood education throughout her political career. She has a personal investment because she was once a child who was behind. Boucher moved to the United States from Italy with her family when she was five years old and did not speak English.
While generally supporting the bills this year, she warns that certain aspects must be defined. Like where the seats will be going and how the process will work. “The hope is that these funds go to the greatest need, all the while making it equable around the state,” Boucher said.
She wants to have a clear path on how this initiative will be executed, too. “We don’t want to have a babysitting program. There needs to be staff that’s well trained and that it’s quality these children are receiving.”
This task would fall under another proposal that would create the Office of Early Childhood, which would streamline services to low income families, as reported on before by CTLatinoNews.com.
As the bill is written now, the seats would be added gradually over the next five fiscal years. The first 1,000 seats would be added this year and the remaining 3,010 to follow over the remaining four. No new taxes would be implemented to pay for it because the money would come from the existing general fund. The plan calls for a total of $51.1 million.
While similar measures have not passed in previous sessions because the legislature did not tackle the bills in time for the close of session, both Rojas and Boucher said it has strong bi-partisan support this year. Or as Rojas explained, it is a priority this year because the right people, in the right places, are pushing for it, including the governor.