Gov. Malloy’s ‘Smart Start’ picks winners … but we all lose

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The Connecticut Office of Early Childhood and the Gov. Dannel Malloy recently announced the first round of winners in the Smart Start initiative. And while they acknowledged that many school districts opted not to apply, they fail to acknowledge the glaring truth about the reason, i.e. this is a bad initiative and a bad prescription for universal preschool in Connecticut.

And if Smart Start proponents continue to advance this initiative, the towns not selected will not be the only losers in this equation.

Children

Smart Start proponents are advancing the idea that access to preschool education in the public schools with a certified bachelor degree teacher is the fix to the largest achievement gap in the US, while ignoring that every teacher in Connecticut’s K-12 system, where the gap exists, is certified with advanced degrees themselves. So Smart Starts proposes to visit upon children even earlier in their academic life, a one size fits all approach to teaching and learning that is not developmentally appropriate, does not reflect how preschoolers learn and will do nothing to fix Connecticut’s achievement gap.

Parents

On the surface, it may appear that parents benefit the most from Smart Start. But they are actually the biggest losers.

As Smart Start strips childcare providers of its preschool component, parents will see sharp increases in infant/toddler costs as well as waiting lists as providers close their doors.

Many, including proponents of Smart Start, know that it is cost prohibitive to operate Infant/Toddler programs. New Haven’s board of education, in deciding to close their program stated, “Financially, the program requires a high number of staff for a relatively small number of students and was not sustainable in the short or long term…”

Without a preschool component to provide these offsets, providers will be forced to increase their prices and parents will be faced with average infant and toddler rates of $300+ per week. This will drive care beyond the cost of many families, assuming they can find care at all.

Childcare providers

No business can succeed if their competitor offers their product for free.

Many providers are seeing a sharp decline in preschool enrollment. Proponents of Smart Start suggest that these providers transition to an all infant/toddler model. But as previously stated, that model is not sustainable in the short or long term. Many will opt to close their doors instead, resulting in shrinking supply that will force children into unregulated childcare settings.

Head Start

Head Start programs are seeing steady declines in enrollment as families opt for the public school preschools.

Many Head Start slots, which are funded by federal dollars, are being supplanted by public preschools through the expansion of the magnet schools and initiatives like Smart Start. This will not only curb the expansion of Head Start programs, but may result in Connecticut permanently losing millions of dollars in federal funds while shifting the cost of preschool education onto the state’s credit card.

School leaders

Smart Start will require preschools housed in public schools to be accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) within three years of receiving funding. So school administrators who are grappling with how to close the country’s largest achievement gap, and how to implement Common Core, will now have to undertake and maintain this accreditation process for children that they have no mandate to educate.

The Sheff Movement

Preschool expansion through the magnet schools has been one of the principal mechanisms through which Hartford has made progress towards meeting the Sheff mandate.

White families in suburban communities utilizing free preschools in the magnet schools create the mixture of diversity and reduce the racial isolation that the mandate requires. However, many of these families, return to their school districts when their children become eligible for kindergarten.

As Smart Start offer these families free preschool options in their communities many will forgo those magnet schools’ preschool in favor of their local ones.

Businesses

Gov. Malloy touts that Connecticut is open for business.

As the economy looks poised to take off and job opportunities return, employers may find it difficult to find employees as child care options shrink for parents. There is currently no infant/toddler availability in any of New Haven’s 44 childcare centers.

As Smart Start and the state’s universal preschool policy continue to ravage Connecticut’s childcare industry, the shortage of childcare options will imperil the state’s quest to be a top 20 place for business by 2017.

State of Connecticut

See all of the above.

Georgia Goldburn is the executive director of Hope Child Development Center in New Haven.

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