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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.