Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Wednesday pledged to continue his support of education reforms in general and early childhood slots in particular at a groundbreaking of a center in Fair Haven Heights that will expand accredited pre-school options for low-income children.
As the state clears a minimum $363 million shortfall this fiscal year and is looking at a $2.3 billion deficit over the next two years, Malloy gave early childhood programs high priority, but he stopped short of any promises on the level of funding.
“Nothing is off limits, but there are last items and early childhood would be a last item, I can assure you,” Malloy said of funding cuts.
The Friends Center for Children, which is being supported with $1.75 million in state bonding with the rest of the $4.35 million to be raised privately, is expected to open next fall and serve 70 children, ages 3 months to 5 years, with 36 of the slots saved for families that ordinarily could not afford the full-day, year round care.
Malloy, in addressing the crowd of educators and meetinghouse members at the groundbreaking ceremony and luncheon, said early childhood funding “is the biggest bang for the educational buck that you can possibly have.”
In his first biennial budget last year, Malloy invested some $6 million in early learning initiatives and funding for 1,000 additional slots for preschool options.
He said one of the many pluses of the Friends Center for Children is its location in New Haven, where the need is great for low-income pre-schoolers to have access to quality child care.
Malloy said said educators have to rethink “the most expensive model” for preschool for one that educates “as best as possible” the most children.
Malloy predicted if children came to kindergarten with at least one year of quality preschool and knew how to behave, the state’s troubling academic test scores would increase substantially.
“This is an important downpayment to getting the job done in Greater New Haven,” Malloy said of the center.
There has been a early childhood center in the basement of the Quaker’s New Haven Friends Meetinghouse for the past 11 years, under the direction of Executive Director Allyx Schiavone.
, where a contingent of Quaker membership have worked since then to greatly expand its diverse program that balances children from income levels and racial backgrounds while offering scholarship aid to make that possible. Of the 18 children in the current program, 10 are from low-income families.
“Fights are worth having in the legislature, if they lead to real change,” Malloy said of the ambitious education package that was adopted last year.
He said Connecticut used to be a leader in education, something he wants to reclaim
“We’ve got to get outside our box. We’ve got to get outside our own way of doing things,” he said.
Rethorically he asked teachers in the audience who they would spend more time with in a classroom - the child who is ready to learn or the one who needs the most help.
“Regardless how you answer that question, it is the wrong answer because we should never have to answer that question to begin with,” Malloy said.
Schiavone reacted emotionally to his remarks saying they validated her career in the model developed at the center.
The program is funded through school readiness funds, as well as tuition and private donations. Tuition ranges from $22 a month to $1,365 a month, depending upon the ability of a family to pay.
The new building is geared toward young children and is environmentally focused with a geothermal, radiant slab to keep the floors warm, floor to ceiling windows, a rooftop garden and a rainwater harvesting system. It operates as a co-op with heavy parental involvement.
State Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said as a lawmaker not all requests for assistance generate the same degree of enthusiasm. “This was one that I had a high degree of enthusiasm about because I know how precious it is and how valuable the cause is,” Looney said.