NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk school and elected officials came together Tuesday to celebrate new state initiatives designed to expand access to early childhood education for kids across the city and the state.
Norwalk could see an increase in funding for pre-kindergarten slots, officials said.
The governor signed a bill into law last month creating the Office of Early Childhood, an agency that will be responsible for coordinating and improving early childhood programs throughout the state. The state also created 1,020 new School Readiness Program “slots,” which will be awarded to school districts such as Norwalk across the state. The slots provide funding to pre-kindergarten providers in the amount of $8,670 per child per year.
The slots will be awarded through an RFP process. The last time slots were made available in the state was 2010, when 50 were awarded to Norwalk.
“We have a goal in the state, I believe it’s shared also by our local elected officials, that we work toward, strive toward, and that is universal pre-k in the state of Connecticut. And that is not something the state can do alone, it’s something that is a state and local partnership,” said state Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk). “Fortunately, Norwalk has been at the forefront of early childhood education for many years.”
“The best bang for our buck is to make certain we’re investing in our children early on so that all children are starting in the same place in this race, rather than having a large percentage of your children who do not have a preschool experience whatsoever,” said state Rep. Bruce Morris (D-Norwalk).
About 1,000 Norwalk students will be registered for kindergarten this fall, about half of whom are currently enrolled in a pre-k program, Norwalk school Superintendent Manuel Rivera said.
“So we’ve got a gap to close, because we want to see more and more of our young people continuing to kindergarten who’ve been exposed and have experiences in a quality pre-k program,” Rivera said. “We’re excited about it, we hope Norwalk gets as many slots as possible so we can provide greater access for our young people.”
The state also created the Connecticut Smart Start program, which will provide grants to towns that demonstrate an unmet need for preschool education, with a focus on needy students.