Connecticut moves to establish universal pre-kindergarten


Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, left, has pushed the universal pre-kindergarten program. (AP Photo/The Day, Dana Jensen)

Thousands of low-income children could find space in pre-kindergarten programs around Connecticut under legislation that won bipartisan support on Friday.

The legislation would open 1,020 seats for pre-kindergarteners in low-income school districts in the 2014-2015 school year. Over the next five years, the state will spend $51 million a year to open another 4,010 seats in pre-K classrooms, the Hartford Courant reported.

Local school boards will be eligible for the grants. Private programs will also be eligible after Republicans pushed to allow them to accept funding; the measure provides almost equal funding for public and private schools.

Expanding preschool has been a top priority for Gov. Dannel Malloy (D), and his plan won bipartisan support. The measure passed the Democratic-led state Senate by a 33-2 vote last week. Passage in the state House is expected.

Several other states have debated expanding pre-kindergarten programs in recent years. New York City schools will get an additional $300 million to fund free full-day classes for 4-year-olds, under an agreement hammered out by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) earlier this year.

Forty states provide at least some public money for pre-K classes; in 2002, Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment requiring school districts to offer voluntary pre-kindergarten programs to all 4-year-olds. Georgia and Oklahoma were the first states to offer universal pre-kindergarten programs.

Minnesota last year created a scholarship program for low-income families. Across the country, an average of 28 percent of 4-year olds are enrolled in similar programs, according to data from the National Institute for Early Education Research.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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