On Tuesday we shared news with you about an upcoming committee vote on the “Strong Start for America’s Children Act”, which was being considered in the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee. We asked you to join us, and thousands of others on Twitter and Facebook, in asking our Senators to heed the research and invest in young kids.
Yesterday, the committee approved the Strong Start legislation with a vote of 12-10. There were two significant changes made to the legislation prior to voting.
- First, the bill originally required teachers – in programs that receive funding – to hold a bachelor’s degree, with credentials that demonstrate competence in early education. The change, adopted yesterday, would provide teachers a three-year “grace period” to meet this requirement. This is considered a significant improvement over the original language, which provided no time period for compliance. However, advocates remain concerned that three years will not be enough time for teachers to meet this new mandate.
- And second, new language allows both states and localities to be recipients of the bill’s preschool development grants. This language could be problematic as many states, including our own, are trying to build strong systems that reach children no matter where they reside. Money being provided directly to towns with the capacity to write strong applications could cause further fragmentation and inequity.
The Center for Law and Social Policy (commonly known as CLASP) has provided a more in-depth look into yesterday’s developments here.
The bill is now likely ready for a vote on the floor of the Senate. We will continue to track this legislation and provide updates as developments arise.
Connecticut’s legislative season has drawn to a successful close, and so now we turn our attention to developments on the federal level. Today, we are watching the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee’s 2PM meeting to debate and amend the“Strong Start for America’s Children Act”. This legislation represents the possibility of a major new federal investment in early care and education; an opportunity Connecticut is well-positioned to take advantage of following the passage of the Office of Early Childhood legislation.
Some of the major components of the “Strong Start” proposal include:
- Funding for Increased Access to Preschool for Four-Year Olds in Low-Income Families
The legislation includes a new funding formula that would provide states with a share of $1.3 billion for Fiscal Year 2014 (increasing to almost $9 billion by 2018) for high-quality pre-kindergarten. States are asked to specifically target the money to assist four-year-olds in families with income below 200% of the federal poverty level. States would be asked to provide a modest match in the early years (10% in year one and two, then gradually increasing to 50% in year six), although at least part of that match can be accounted for from dollars already being expended for early education programs. The legislation empowers state recipients to use the funding for sub-grants to local entities (both school districts and community providers) who are offering high-quality, full-day pre-k experiences. High quality is defined in the bill as a classroom with a teacher with bachelor’s degree, that uses developmentally appropriate curriculum, and that meets all health and safety standards. Small portions of the funding would also be available for workforce development (including teacher scholarships) and for creating a more robust system of care for infants and toddlers.
- Funding to Improve Both the Quality and Access to Infant and Toddler Care
The legislation contains $4 billion for the development of Early Head Start-child care partnerships. The goal of these arrangements is to improve infant and toddler care by linking the expertise found in Early Head Start programs with community providers already serving young children. The legislation also states a goal of having Early Head Start serve one in five children living at or below the poverty level; the program currently serves only one in 25.
- Funding to Infuse Greater Quality into CCDBG (Care4Kids)
The legislation contains two very important updates to this 17-year-old grant program. The first is allocating $100 million to support child care training, licensure, and professional development for early care and education programs who receive CCDBG/Care4Kids funding. The language would also require that states switch to a one-year redetermination period for families found eligible for CCDBG/Care4Kids. Currently the redetermination period is set at 8 months in Connecticut for Care4Kids, though language that passed this legislative session would permit the return to a 6 six-month redetermination period. Frequent redetermination creates great uncertainty for both the families and the providers who rely on these childcare subsidies.
- Language in Support of Continued Federal Funding for Voluntary, Evidence-Based Home Visitation Programs (though no actual funding is contained within the bill).
The Senate HELP Committee has organized a “twitter storm” for 2pm while its meeting is being held. This list of sample tweets has been provided to us by our partners at the National Women’s Law Center. We hope those of you with accounts on Facebook and Twitter will join us in showing your support! You can also watch live here –help.senate.gov.
Wednesday evening marked the end of the very unpredictable 2014 Legislative Session, and Connecticut’s low-income children and families have much to celebrate! The past few months have seen an increase to the minimum wage, a partial restoration of the Earned Income Tax Credit, and a major expansion of the state’s early childhood care and education programs. The budget also included a substantial increase in funding for remedial education at the state’s higher education institutions and protected resources that go to the state’s legal aid clinics – both investments being critical for our state’s most vulnerable citizens.
Below we have highlighted a few of the “good”, “bad” and “ugly” legislative developments. Our full breakdown of all the bills we had been watching that affect low-income children and families is available here.
- Connecticut is First State to Raise the Minimum Wage to $10.10. Public Act 14-1 increases the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 by 2017. This increase will directly help 140,000 workers, many of whom are women leading single parent families, move out of poverty. A higher minimum wages means greater financial stability for vulnerable parents and children, reduced need for government safety net programs, and higher earnings for students who are working to pay for college.
- Budget Agreement Restores CT’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to 27.5% of the federal EITC. In 2012, Connecticut implemented a state EITC equal to 30% of the federal EITC. This was reduced in the last legislative session to 25% of the federal EITC for 2014. Despite late session concerns about the budget and available resources, the legislature restored the EITC to 27.5% for 2015, as called for in the biennial budget. Research shows that the EITC is one of the most effective anti-poverty programs that are directly targeted to low-income working families.
- Full Establishment of the Office of Early Childhood. Governor Malloy created the Office of Early Childhood by Executive Order in 2013, to help ensure a strong and effective system of care and education for young children. Previously personnel and programs that made up the state’s early care and education “non-system” were scattered across five agencies – creating confusion and inconsistency. The legislature brought much needed stability by enacting HB 5562, which puts the Office of Early Childhood in law.
- Senate Fails to Pass Legislation Tackling the Issue of Chronic Absence. Both national and state-level research demonstrates that when children miss more than 10% of the school year, regardless of the reason, they fall behind and almost never catch up. Legislation that would define the problem of chronic absence, and provide school resources to help families with frequently absent children, was never called by the Senate after passing the House, 93-44.
- “Pay It Forward” College Payment Study Does Not Garner Enough Support. A bill that would have the state study the feasibility of having students attend public universities for free, in exchange for a portion of future earnings, failed to be voted on the Senate before the close of session.
- A Shaky Budget. After the legislature unveiled their budget on Saturday, critics expressed concerns with some of the measures used to balance it. Particularly troubling was a $75 million line item that relied on the collection of back taxes, with few details about how this funding would be recovered. While we applaud the legislature for its support for low-income families in this budget, it is equally important that we are honest about the state’s finances to ensure the CT is able to continue funding our safety net programs for years to come.
- Remedial Education Reform Delayed. Connecticut approved an ambitious reform for remedial education in 2012. For the past two years, the Board of Regents has worked with state universities and community colleges to implement the changes. As some institutions have struggled to meet the fall 2014 deadline to fully roll out the reform, the legislature has decided to give the option to community colleges to delay its implementation until 2015. This may postpone some much needed changes in the system, but the legislation opens the door for those colleges that are ready to roll out the reform.
We want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you for your support through out this session — these successes would have been impossible without you! We look forward to building on this momentum, and to continue the fight for policies that allow all children and families thrive, regardless of income, in 2015.
A new report, released this morning by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, finds that while overall Connecticut's children are doing well compared to national standards, the state's black and Hispanic children remain far behind in important development measures. CAHS is the Casey Foundation's KIDS COUNT grantee for Connecticut.
The KIDS COUNT® policy report, Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children, ranked Connecticut ninth, using a first-of-its-kind index measuring child progress.
The report, which can be viewed here, contains both national and state-level data, and the new Race for Results index has been designed to see how children are progressing on key milestones across racial and ethnic groups. The indicators for the index were chosen based on the goal that all children should grow up in economically successful families, live in supportive communities and meet developmental, health and educational milestones. Examples of the indicators, reported by race, include the percent of babies born at normal birth-weight, the percent of young children enrolled in an early learning program, and the percent of high school students graduating on time. Each state is ranked, from 1 to 50, based on a combined "Race for Results" index score.
Overall, Connecticut ranks 9th in the nation. This high-rank masks the persistent and large disparities between races here in the state. Connecticut's white children ranked third compared to their peers across the 50 states, just behind New Jersey and Massachusetts. Black children ranked 16 out of 46 states in the index, and Connecticut's Hispanic children ranked 24 out of 47 states (in some states the population of black and Hispanic children was too small to provide enough data for comparison).
So while the main driver behind our high ranking is from white children doing very well, black and Hispanic children contribute by doing better than one-half to two-thirds of the rest of the country. The good news, however, is tempered when we look internally and compare the scores between white and minority children, to reveal a stark inequality in Connecticut. The differences in scores places Connecticut 39th (out of 46) when comparing white children to black children , and nearly last (46 out of 47) in the difference between white and Hispanic children.
We believe that the findings of this report highlights a troubling reality in the state -- that children of color are not receiving the same opportunities as their white peers. We also believe that the findings are a call to action, and that the index underscores the need to invest in high quality early childhood education, workforce development programs, and wrap-around supports for low-income and vulnerable parents.
We have prepared a short document that uses the report's indicators to compare Connecticut's children with children nationwide - the chart can be viewed here.
This afternoon the legislature's Education Committee placed Senate Bill 25, An Act Establishing the Office of Early Childhood (OEC), on its consent calendar -- a move which allows the bill to leave the committee and go to the Senate for a possible vote.
This development is an important first step for the OEC. The OEC currently exists only by Executive Order, with funding that was provided last year by the legislature. As those following this office may remember, last year the General Assembly failed to pass a bill that would create the OEC, but at the same time passed a budget that included reference to it and resources for its creation. (Read more about this here.)
It is critical that the legislature complete the work necessary to codify the Office of Early Childhood. The OEC represents an opportunity for real reform in the early care community. If fully implemented, this office will bring together early childhood and education programs from across five state agencies, and puts these programs under a team that is dedicated to creating a true system that works for children, parents, and providers. The failure to put the OEC securely in statute threatens the success of this effort.
We will continue to track SB 25, as well as other important early childhood bills including:
- SB 26, An Act Expanding Opportunities for Early Childhood Education -- contains parts of the Governor's initiative to expand access to preK;
- HB 5522, An Act Concerning School Readiness Funding -- increase the per child reimbursement for full-day school readiness programs; and
- Senate Resolution 9 and House Resolution 5 -- these resolutions approve the collective bargaining agreement between the Office of Early Childhood and the new child care worker union, includes raises in Care4Kids funding.
Keep checking the blog for future updates throughout the session.
The latest KIDS COUNT policy report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation presents a strong case for investing in the early years of a child´s life. Decades of brain and child development research show that kids who enter kindergarten with below-average language and cognitive skills can catch up - but only if they are physically healthy and have strong social and emotional skills.
The report includes plenty of evidence to back up this assertion. A newly released analysis from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study shows that just 19 percent of third-graders in families with income below 200 percent of the poverty level and 50 percent of those in families with incomes above that level had developed age-appropriate cognitive skills. This picture is particularly troubling for children of color, with 14 percent of black children and 19 percent of Hispanic children on track in cognitive development.
Children who don't meet these key developmental milestones often struggle to catch up in school and graduate on time and are less likely to achieve the kind of economic success and stability necessary to support a family themselves.
For children to succeed they need both great schools and positive integration of their classroom experience on their daily lives. The need social, emotional and physical stability that enables them to learn in a nurturing environment. The report makes the following policy recommendations:
- Support parents so they can effectively care and provide for their children.
- Increase access to high-quality birth-through-age-8 programs, beginning with investments that target low-income children.
- Develop comprehensive, integrated programs and data systems to address all aspects of children's development and support their transition to elementary school and related programs for school-age children.
CAHS, as a KIDS COUNT member organization, has advocated and will continue advocating for these programs and policies. You can find the full report here; we will soon publish a companion report focusing on how these issues affect Connecticut, and the targeted investments the state needs to achieve these goals.
The entrance exams for community colleges will no longer be the lone factor determining whether or not students can enroll in credit-bearing courses. The validity of these standardized tests, named Accuplacer, have long been criticized by educational providers and students alike including Columbia University's Teachers College just recently.
Approximately 70% of students fail these placement exams each year and only 13.6% of full-time students who take the required remedial courses after failing actually earn an associate's degree in four years, which is twice the time it should take. The Board of Regents passed a law on June 20th to require a dozen colleges and the four Connecticut State Universities to use multiple indicators. These indicators can include a high-school transcript, senior portfolio, or anything else that can predict a student’s preparedness for college-level courses.
If students fail these entrance exams under the current system, many are forced to take and pay for non-credit remedial courses that may hinder their ability to graduate in the expected number of years.
This policy change is only one of many steps that must be taken in the next 15 months to improve Connecticut’s higher education system.
The law passed in 2012 also limits remedial enrollment to one semester beginning in the fall of 2014. However, many believe that students will then begin to fail introductory courses they are not ready for.
The current plan, which has not yet been finalized, would allow fewer students to take one semester of remedial non-credit courses before being allowed to take college-level courses. The flow of students that would then be able to take credit-bearing courses will need an updated support system that may include small class sizes, tutors, and computer-assisted technology. A draft budget has shown that it could cost $8.9 million a year to decrease class sizes, $2.9 million to hire tutors and counselors, and $1.6 for intensive technology.
As of ysterday, June 24th, Governor Dannel P. Malloy signed an executive order to establish an Office of Early Childhood. This decision is in response to the failing of the General Assembly bill that would have established an Early Childhood Cabinet. This cabinet would transfer authority from various state agencies to one office that would be responsible for delivering early childhood services.
Malloy explains that the bill was going to pass if not for some political differences as evident by the allocation of $127 million in the first year and $232 million in the second year of the already passed state budget to the office. The order used these funds to create a “coordinated system of early child care and education” by July 1, the first day of the fiscal year, which will allow services to go on interrupted.
The OEC (Office of Early Childhood) builds on the work done in 2012 when Connecticut “invested $9.8 million in early childhood initiatives, created 1,000 new spots for early learners, invested $3 million for a tiered quality rating and improvement system, and sought collaborative partnerships for the Office of Early Childhood Planning.”
Despite continued disagreements between the parties and further criticism, Malloy stated that this order is simply a temporary solution until the bill can be reintroduced and passed in the next legislative session. He explained that “the key to improving education in our state is better access to quality early learning opportunities for every single child. The Office of Early Childhood represents an important step toward reaching that ultimate goal.”
Today, June 25th, Malloy has appointed Dr. Jones-Taylor to serve as Executive Director of the OEC. Dr. Jones-Taylor currently serves as Director of the state Office of Early Childhood Planning, a position she was appointed to by Governor Malloy in 2012.
Governor Malloy also believes that the establishment of this office is the first step to creating a universal pre-K system which he successfully implemented in Stamford when he served as Mayor.
As part of the National Day of Action on early learning, CAHS and our partners at the New England Consortium have sent a letter to our Senators (PDF) asking for their support in expanding early care and education programs in the US.
Connecticut has been leading in early care and education for years. The state has just completed a year-long early care and education system planning process involving key stakeholders. Following a blueprint created by the planning team, we are moving ahead with a proposal to establish a new Office of Early Childhood to create a more streamlined and coordinated system of early childhood in Connecticut. The state is also working to improve important quality markers like program accreditation and staff education despite struggling to attract and retain the top teachers due to rates that have not been increased since 2002.
These and other current programs, however, have been weakened by the sequester. The President´s early care and education initiative is a great step to reverse these cuts and expand these services nation wide. In Connecticut we have seen how these programs can help. We know that investing in early care and education is a cost-effective strategy that results in signifi
cant savings for federal, state, and local governments through decreased spending on education remediation and special education, less crime, improved health outcomes, higher high school graduation and college matriculation rates, decreased dependenc
The President´s plan would provide additional resources for Connecticut that will enable the state to increase the footprint of these initiatives. The first year alone will enable more than 2,600 kids to receive quality childcare, more than 8,000 mothers will benefit from the expanded home visiting program.e on welfare and increased tax revenues.
We need these programs - and we need strong leaders in the US Senate and in Connecticutto move them forward.
A recent Legislative bill aims to make changes to the Care4Kids program so that women taking unpaid leave from work due to birth or impending birth will be given six weeks of payment eligibility during leave. According to SB 887, "An Act Concerning the Care4Kids Program," women will be guaranteed paid leave as long as the recipient intends to return to work, verifies that eligibility is needed to prevent a lost pre-school or child care slot, and the child continues to attend the program during the recipient's leave.
The bill, which was co-sponsored by state representatives from both political parties, will help low-income families who otherwise would have lost the Care4Kids childcare subsidy and been forced into an even more difficult financial predicament.
On May 1st, the bill passed through the Senate with an unanimous "yea" vote, and on May 20th, it passed through the House and became a public act. Notably, the bill passed by a large margin in the House- only seven members voted down the bill out of the 130 representatives voting that day. Currently, we are waiting for the bill to be signed by Governor Malloy and put into effect.
The strong backing from across party lines shows the true importance in helping low-income families attain necessary child-care. Moreover, it shows the overwhelming support throughout Connecticut to help working poor families achieve economic stability and fully provide for their children.