(The following post was made on the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance’s blog on June 2, 2014, just days after Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy signed into law landmark legislation establishing the State Office of Early Childhood. The Community Foundation of Greater New Britain – as part of its signature First Years First early childhood development initiative – was among those advocating and lobbying long and hard for the legislation. Former CFGNB board member, Community Initiatives Committee member and longtime children’s advocate Charles Leach, a vocal supporter of the legislation, was among those standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Governor during a May 5 Childhood Alliance press event at the Capitol following House and Senate passage of the bill in the legislative session’s closing hours. We congratulate Childhood Alliance Director Merrill Gay, former head of the Coalition for New Britain’s Children, and all children’s advocates statewide who played their parts along with the Foundation in seeing this effort through. To view the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance blog, click here. Visit the Office of Early Childhood website.)
Mission Accomplished: Office of Early Childhood Officially Exists in Connecticut
“What a year we’ve had – what a difference a year makes.”
Those were the words spoken by Dr. Myra Jones-Taylor, the commissioner of Connecticut’s Office of Early Childhood on May 28 at Helen Street School in Hamden. The “OEC” was created by Executive Order last summer by Governor Malloy, and both legislative chambers made the OEC official, by codifying it into law this session.
The governor signed Public Act 14-39, “An Act Establishing the Office of Early Childhood, Expanding Opportunities for Early Childhood Education and Concerning Dyslexia and Special Education,” and Public Act 14-41, “An Act Establishing the Connecticut Smart Start Program” in Hamden on May 28.
For early childhood advocates, this bill-signing ceremony was five years in the making. Five years of hard work to study early childhood programs, educate the legislature about the inefficiency of having early childhood programs in five different state agencies, and working on countless drafts of legislation to create the most effective and efficient system for delivering early childhood programs and services. Advocates stayed the course, despite the failure of the bill to pass in 2013.
Many of those advocates who worked so hard for so long were in attendance for the bill-signing.
“This is truly a historic moment in Connecticut,” said Merrill Gay, Executive Director of the CT Early Childhood Alliance. “Connecticut’s children and families are the big winners when it comes to the passage of the Office of Early Childhood – we can fix the broken ‘non-system’ they have been trying to navigate for so long.”
“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,” said Governor Dannel Malloy.
The newly sworn-in commissioner of the OEC, Jones-Taylor shared her own personal story. Her mother took three buses to get her to a high-quality early childhood program – a program she couldn’t afford – because she knew its value. Jones-Taylor went on to attend Northwestern University and Yale, but her mother still believes that the best education came from those early years of her childhood. Families shouldn’t have to take three buses to find high-quality early childhood programs, Jones-Taylor said. They need to be more accessible.
Connecticut has been a leader when it comes to early childhood education, said Commissioner Jones-Taylor. She noted the oldest and continuously-operating early childhood program in the nation is in New Haven. Head Start founder Dr. Ed Zigler piloted the program in New Haven. Other programs and services such as Help Me Grow and Child FIRST both started in Connecticut and are being replicated across the nation. The tradition of leadership in early childhood education continues with the creation of the OEC. Connecticut officials recently lead a webinar with 49 states, Guam and Abu Dhabi, on how they too, can create an Office of Early Childhood.
In addition to codifying the OEC, the legislation also expands preschool access for three- and four-year olds: a 1,020 slot increase in the state’s subsidized School Readiness Program beginning in Fiscal Year 2015. Public Act 14-39 also includes recognition of dyslexia as a Primary Specific Learning Disability, a step which will support evidence-based interventions for Connecticut students with dyslexia.
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 a 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.