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Good and Bad News for Pre-Schoolers in Connecticut

May 12, 2010

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - There is both good news and bad for Connecticut in terms of its approach to early childhood education, according to a new state-by-state comparison released by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University.

The report indicates, even in these tough economic times, Connecticut has managed to maintain a relatively high number of slots in quality preschool programs. But David Nee, executive director of the William Casper Graustein Memorial Fund, which focuses on early childhood education, says the report reveals a downside, too.

"In 2005 or 2006, we would have been considered the cutting edge when it came to building a workable system of early care and education. Other states were looking to us for ideas because of the state government's commitment at the highest level."

Nee notes that Gov. Jodi Rell and the legislature had made the issue a top priority, creating a cabinet-level position to coordinate research, policy, and financing of early childhood education. Gov. Rell stands by this support as one of her proudest legacies. Since then, however, much of that infrastructure has disappeared or been downgraded.

Nee says the state can't beat the payback from investment in early care and education.

"Every dollar invested yields a payoff, depending on which study you believe, between $7 and $14, and most of that is in saved public revenue. About a quarter of it goes to the individual in enhanced income, but the balance of it is saved costs on welfare, incarceration, a lot of other things."

In his opinion, the state should focus on ensuring that all eligible children are enrolled in preschool programs – and that's just the first step, he says.

"The second thing is to make sure all the state agencies that have part of the responsibility for this come into alignment, in terms of policy and a systems overview, so that there's consistency in revenue and support for providers, and consistency in access for families and their children."

The full report, "The State of Preschool 2009," is online at www.nieer.org/yearbook.

Melinda Tuhus, Public News Service - CT