Universal Pre-Kindergarten Access Is High Priority in Connecticut

PreschoolPracticeUniversal Preschool Access is a hot, national education news topic. For Connecticut government and education leaders, it’s a recurring priority item since 2004.

In February, Connecticut State Governor Dannel P. Malloy met with legislators and educators to discuss his proposal for quality universal preschool access to “all children, regardless of income.” Governor Malloy’s main objective is to offer “full-time” pre-kindergarten to 4,000+ more low-income children in Connecticut by 2019, as stated in his 2014 State of the State Address.

The Governor has given the “Office of Early Childhood” a January 1, 2015 deadline to develop the phase-in plan specifics. This includes rate increases to early education providers and programs, both public and private; and improvements to the ratings and licensing systems. The proposed cost: $13.8 Million.

As a parent of a child who has experienced both worlds of private preschool and public preschool, I think both are equally excellent for Kindergarten preparedness. The big difference is the cost.

Here’s one idea that I think Governor Malloy and the “Office of Early Childhood” need to seriously consider…

Phase 1: Integrate Low-Income Children into the Existing “Part-Time” Early Childhood Special Education Program:

Connecticut’s low-income children should be able to participate in an already highly successful part-time public preschool program option that exists right now in local and regional school districts.

This Early Childhood Special Education Program name varies by town, and successfully integrates children with disabilities, for free, into a fun learning environment mixed with children that do not have any disabilities. In my local area, this program has an excellent reputation and is growing. My non-special needs child is in his second year participating, and he absolutely loves it! This is a part-time program to model: It is flourishing, properly funded, and inexpensive by comparison to many private preschool options. A quality part-time program is plentiful for preschoolers.

Phase 2: Offer Part-Time Early Childhood Special Education to ALL Children & Eliminate the Lottery System:

All children in Connecticut should have equal access to a part-time publicly funded preschool program regardless if they are rich / poor / middle class, special needs or not.

Thankfully, there is not a lottery system in my town, but there almost was. Luckily, an extra Early Childhood Special Education Class came to fruition because of the program’s high-demand and popularity with non-special needs children. Unfortunately, the lottery system still exists in some Connecticut school districts for non-special needs preschoolers.

The Potential: This public preschool program can evolve to be a universal part-time, year-round program for ALL children.

The Cost: There are ways to be resourceful and creative with existing grant money. Plus, Head Start and School Readiness program / daycare integration can be tighter. A sliding tuition scale, too, makes sense.

Another Positive: With part-time universal public preschool program access, Connecticut’s unusual wide age gap; that includes 4-year-olds in mostly full-time Kindergarten classrooms with 5 and 6-year-olds, might actually narrow.

Article is featured in the Rutgers National Institute for Early Education Research website.

Here’s a feasible idea to integrate all low-income children immediately into a successful and existing part-time public preschool program, and make it universal for all children.

Article and photo by Alicia Sakal. Originally published in Yahoo! News.

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