More than 100 childcare and early education providers and advocates have expressed concern about a recent law passed in Connecticut, that would require children to be five years old before they can be enrolled in kindergarten.
Previous law allowed students who would have turned five between September and December to enroll. Childcare providers don’t necessarily disagree with the decision to delay enrollment, but they are concerned about the strain keeping these students out of kindergarten for another year will place on both parents and the early childhood education system.
“We commend the spirit of this policy change which brings our state in alignment with most other states and aims to create conditions in which children enter kindergarten ready to thrive,” advocates said in an open letter sent to Gov. Ned Lamont and other state leaders on Wednesday. “However, the short timeline and lack of resources identified to support effective implementation will have dire consequences on lower-income families, early childhood educators, and the children this policy change aims to support.”
The concern is the cost of early childhood education for families, which according to the Economic Policy Institute runs more than $12,000 for a pre-kindergarten child in Connecticut. This burden falls harder on lower-income families, many of whom take advantage of subsidized early education. But there are only so many slots available and as it is, only a fraction of families currently eligible for the subsidies are able to access them.
“We already know that there’s an existing shortage of slots, and especially a shortage of existing subsidized slots,” says Courtney Parkserson, director of The Connecticut Project, which put together the letter. “And now those children who would’ve been moving on to kindergarten are exacerbating that issue because they’re occupying slots that other children in the system also need. The financial implications are huge for families who were not planning to pay for another year of preschool or childcare.”
In the letter, the group is asking the governor and state legislature to add $50 million to the state budget in the next session. That funding would provide additional subsidized slots to the state’s early childhood education program, which would reduce the number of low-income families that would be negatively impacted by the new regulations.
The $50 million, says Parkerson would represent a band-aid, an emergency response to a rapidly approaching cliff for some families.
“The early care and education system needs far more resources than $50 million,” she adds. “This is to try to address the impact on financially disadvantaged, vulnerable families related to this specific policy change.”
Parkerson says that the state’s approach to early education needs much more work than this new policy will provide, but it is a step. The governor seems to agree. Earlier this year, he put together a Blue Ribbon Panel to make recommendations on possible future improvements. A recent report out of the panel did just that, to the tune of a few hundred million dollars in future state spending.
But, says Parkerson, those recommendations would be implemented too late for the families affected by this current change, which will go into effect for the 2024-2025 school year.
“The intent of the letter is really to ask legislators to act on behalf of low-income families, and to acknowledge the fact that this policy change is going to have really significant impacts and potentially perpetuate the kind of educational inequities that this policy, I think in its intent, is hoping to address,” argues Parkerson. “If we can be thoughtful about the implementation of it by identifying additional public resources to support low-income families and to give the early care and education system the time it needs to adjust, then we can achieve that vision that all children enter kindergarten ready to learn, grow, and succeed.”