Governor Malloy signs bills establishing the Office of Early Childhood and moving Connecticut toward universal pre-kindergarten

CAFCA | June 05, 2014 |

 

(HAMDEN, CT) – Governor Dannel P. Malloy, joined by Commissioner of the Office of Early Childhood, Myra Jones-Taylor, State Department of Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, state legislators and local officials, this afternoon signed two bills at the Helen Street School in Hamden that will expand pre-kindergarten for the state’s three and four-year-olds, add dyslexia as a primary specific learning disability for children requiring special education, and formally establish the Office of Early Childhood.
 
“Ensuring that students are prepared to compete in a global economy and excel in twenty-first century careers means that we must strive to equip them with the knowledge, skills and tools they will need from day one,” Governor Malloy said.  “This is not the case when a number of students in Connecticut come to kindergarten having had no learning experience prior to that.  By codifying the Office of Early Childhood in statute and moving our state toward universal access to pre-K we are taking significant steps to close the achievement gap and ensure that all students succeed – regardless of income or zip code.”
 
The Office of Early Childhood, the 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, was created through Executive Order No. 35 by Governor Malloy last June.  Public Act 14-41 now formally establishes the agency in statute.
 
“With the creation of the Office of Early Childhood, Connecticut is serving as a national model and leading the country in early childhood. We are very fortunate in our state to have such supportive leadership that recognizes the lifelong impacts the early years of a child’s life can have,” said Dr. Myra Jones-Taylor, Commissioner of the Office of Early Childhood. “By creating a cohesive and comprehensive early childhood system and increasing opportunities for high-quality early education for preschoolers, we are giving young children a better chance at succeeding not only academically, but in life as well.”
 
The expansion toward universal pre-kindergarten will begin in FY15 with the addition of 1,020 slots for children to attend high-quality preschool through the state’s School Readiness Program which were included in Public Act 14-39.  The bill also requires the Office of Early Childhood to develop a plan to achieve universal access to preschool across all state-funded preschool programs. 
 
Public Act 14-41 establishes the Connecticut Smart Start Program which requires the Office of Early Childhood, in consultation with the State Department of Education, to design and administer the Smart Start competitive grant program for local and regional Boards of Education.  The program is intended to expand preschool opportunities for low-income children in public schools.
 
Connecticut Smart Start will provide grants in FY15 for the renovation of existing public school classrooms to accommodate public preschool programs.  Up to $100 million in bonding for renovations will be available over a 10-year period, with a maximum of $10 million per year.  Funding for public preschool classrooms will begin in FY16 with $100 million in operating funding available over a 10-year period (maximum $10 million per year) from the Tobacco Settlement Fund.
 
The Office of Early Childhood will be responsible for reviewing all applications for funding from local towns and districts through the Connecticut Smart Start Program.  Applicants 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. 
 
Also in Public Act 14-39, the State Department of Education is required to add “SLD – Dyslexia” under “Specific Learning Disabilities” in the “Primary Disability” section of the individualized education program form used by planning and placement teams for the provision of special education and related services to children requiring special education and related services. It also requires any program of teacher preparation leading to professional certification shall include the detection and recognition of, and evidence-based interventions for, students with dyslexia as part of the curriculum.
 
“Connecticut’s future is determined in part by the investments we make today,” Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman said.  “There is no more important priority than educating our children and preparing them for a strong future.  The Office of Early Childhood is a tremendous resource as we expand pre-K learning, work to close the achievement gap, and prepare the highly-skilled workforce of the future.”
 
Senate President Donald E. Williams, Jr. (D-Brooklyn) said, “Connecticut Smart Start, the creation of the Office of Early Childhood, and Governor Malloy’s plan to create 1,020 new pre-kindergarten slots represent a giant step forward on the path to universal access to pre-K in Connecticut.  Every dollar we invest in pre-K saves $7 in avoided special and remedial education costs and criminal justice costs.  Children who experience quality pre-K have improved performance and behavior in the classroom, 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.”
 
“This comprehensive investment in early education will do more than anything else to conquer the achievement gap that has plagued us for so long,” said Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney (D-New Haven).  “Research shows that students who do not take part in an early education experience enter school socially, academically and physically behind their peers.  Through no fault of their own, these students are forced to play catch-up beginning on their first day of kindergarten.”
 
“These bills represent a monumental investment in early childhood education, and are the result of years of hard work and commitment,” said State Senator Andrea Stillman (D-Waterford), co-chair of the legislature’s Education Committee.  “I want to thank the Governor and all those who collaborated to see this vision achieved.”
 
State Representative Andrew Fleischmann (D-West Hartford), co-chair of the legislature’s Education Committee, said, “By creating the Office of Early Childhood, Connecticut enters the top tier of states that recognize how critical early childhood education is to long-term academic success and closing the achievement gap.  And by creating more than 1,000 new spaces for low-income children in early childhood programs, we take the lead in moving toward universal access to pre-school.  Governor Malloy spearheaded this effort, and, along with legislative leaders, deserves credit for these great advances.”
 
“At some point in the future, when we look back on the 2014 legislative session and we consider all of the education reforms that we undertook, I believe these new laws will be seen as three of the most significant public policy priorities that moved Connecticut forward, both on an educational basis and an economic basis,” said State Senator Beth Bye (D-West Hartford), a lifelong advocate for early childhood education.  “This is truly a turning point.”
 
“The provision of high-quality early learning opportunities is critical to preparing our young people for success in school,” Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor said.  “Thanks to the leadership and determination of Governor Malloy and the General Assembly, Connecticut takes a very significant step forward today – expanding pre-kindergarten access and, therefore, strengthening school readiness throughout our state.  With the codification of the Office of Early Childhood in statute, we are truly building a permanent, unified, and comprehensive early childhood system to support our youngest learners and their families.”
 
The legislation signed by the Governor were Public Act 14-39An Act Establishing The Office Of Early Childhood, Expanding Opportunities For Early Childhood Education and Concerning Dyslexia and Special Education, and Public Act 14-41An Act Establishing The Connecticut Smart Start Program.
 
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For Immediate Release: May 28, 2014
Contact: Samaia Hernandez
860-524-7314 (office)
860-770-8298 (cell)