Wait, or is it the other way around?
If there are any legislators out there – now is the time to speak out and make a real difference concerning the future of early childhood education. Please join Representative Gary Holder-Winfield and Senator Beth Bye who has been very outspoken and Representative State Representative Matthew Ritter, who was the only legislator to sign onto a letter written by the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance.
Last week the federal government, once again, rejected Connecticut’s application for $50 million Race to the Top education funds. That makes three times that Connecticut has failed to successfully compete with other states for these vital funds.
This time it was Connecticut’s application for the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge Funding that was rejected. The federal government was looking for “High-Quality, Accountable Programs; Promoting Early Learning and Development Outcomes for Children; A Great Early Childhood Education Workforce and Measuring Outcomes and Progress.”
The Department of Education in Washington gave Connecticut a C- for its existing early childhood education programs. Despite the high hopes, we weren’t even contenders.
This week, Connecticut Voices for Children, the state’s leading policy think tank, released a report about Connecticut’s early childhood education system. They found that it “is currently a patchwork of multiple funding streams, controlled by multiple agencies, with varied reporting and eligibility requirements and inconsistent and insufficient data collection.”
The report added that federal and state funding for Early Childhood Education in the state has declined by about 10 percent over the past decade.
Connecticut has once more created a system in which there are the “haves” and “have-nots.” About 67 percent of white children are in early childhood education programs, compared to 59 percent for African-American children and 51 percent for Latino children.
Also earlier this week, Governor Malloy reiterated his commitment to make 2012 the “year of education.” Malloy’s spokesman said, “The governor has long recognized the importance of Early Childhood Education, going back to his time as mayor of Stamford where he launched a universal pre-k program…He agrees that our education system needs major reform, which is why we released a set of core principles to legislators earlier this week.”
However, there has been no indication that the Governor or Legislature are planning to come up with additional money, although the Governor did write in the federal grant application’s cover letter that “I am committed to fund one thousand new early childhood education slots targeted to high need children.”
The good news is that there is an increasing recognition among Connecticut’s elected officials that Early Childhood Education is important; that Connecticut is already far behind what other states are doing; and that a major initiative is needed if we hope to close the achievement gap and maintain an educated and capable workforce for our economy.
Yet to be seen is whether our officials will put real money into this effort.
And, at the other end of the scale, is that move by Attorney General George Jepsen, with the strong backing of Governor Malloy, to get the courts to carve out Early Childhood Education from the definition of education.
As a result of the lawsuit brought by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, the Connecticut Supreme Court not only reiterated that children have a constitutional right to an education, but that Connecticut’s education system must actually work and provide children with the knowledge and skills to succeed.
Then, three months ago, the Attorney General, citing the fact that Connecticut’s Constitution only refers to primary and secondary schools, petitioned the courts to make it clear that when the state government addresses the constitutional provisions associated with funding education, Early Education programs are specifically removed from what needs to be done to fulfill the state’s duty to its children.
Jepsen has responded to criticism by saying;
“My office, on behalf of the state has not questioned the potential benefits of pre-school education or the wisdom of providing such services to Connecticut children as a matter of public policy
Rather, we have filed a motion asking the Court to decide – as a legal, not policy matter – whether the Connecticut constitution’s guarantee of ‘free public elementary and secondary schools” was intended to encompass pre-school services.
Not to raise this important legal issue would be irresponsible and a disservice to the state of Connecticut and its people”
While reasonable people can disagree about exactly what the state Constitution means when it refers to education, there are two critical issues Jepsen overlooks.
First, the one constant that prevails throughout the broader education debate is that without successful Early Childhood Education programs you simply can’t have a successful education system.
Second, there is nothing, absolutely nothing that required Jepsen, with Malloy’s support, to file that motion. As Dick Blumenthal showed day after day, year after year, the Attorney General’s Office is guided by a combination of both legal and policy issues. If a future Attorney General wants to strip early childhood education out of the definition of education they can.
But as virtually every politician across the ideological spectrum is calling for a new and profound investment in Early Education, Jepsen has engaged in a separate, unnecessary and harmful effort to exempt state government from having to maintain its early educational programs in the future.
The voters of Connecticut elected George Jepsen over his opponent because they believed he would use his values and beliefs as he worked to uphold the law. This second and counterproductive effort is not only being spearheaded by a Democratic, but it has the blessing and support of the Democratic Governor.
And perhaps the most amazing piece of all is that only three out of 187 member of the Connecticut General Assembly have stepped forward to officially ask the Attorney General and the Governor to withdraw their motion to carve out Early Childhood Education.
Every Connecticut elected official needs to decide: are you for Early Childhood Education or are you not?
And if they are for Early Childhood Education, they need to have the conviction to ensure that, in Connecticut at least, the notion of “education” includes Early Education programs.
Had we done that over the last couple of decades we might have received that $50 million federal grant. We didn’t get the grant; but these officials can have an even bigger impact – they can work to make sure Jepsen and Malloy pull back on their anti-early childhood education motion.
Legislators, three of your colleagues have stepped up, now is the time for you to join them and speak out.