Why we can’t wait — Race and the Care 4 Kids Program

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According to the United Way of Connecticut, the agency that administers the Care 4 Kids (C4K) program, 4,424 fewer children were being served in December 2016 than in August 2016 when the program closed to most new applicants.

Families from cities like Bridgeport, Hartford, Waterbury and New Haven were hardest hit, with a combined 1,429 fewer children being served.  These cities represent one third of the total subsidies lost between August and December.

While C4K does not provide a racial breakdown of the children being served through their program, estimates on the percentage of children of color enrolled in public schools in each of these cities, as published on Edsite, suggest that 83 percent of these are children of color.  The pattern holds for the next five towns hardest hit: Danbury, East Hartford, Meriden, New Britain and Norwich, where 862 combined fewer children were being served; estimates suggest that 66 percent of these are children of color.

Connecticut has the distinction of having the widest achievement gap in the nation.  The reduction in racial isolation sought through the Sheff vs. O’Neill case remains elusive and in the CCJEF vs Rell case, Judge Thomas Moukawsher ruled that Connecticut is defaulting on its constitutional duty to give all children an adequate education.

The closure of the C4K program follows in the sad tradition of unequal access to quality care and education for the state’s youngest children of color.  The data is clear on the benefits of early care and education and it is equally clear about the school-to-prison pipeline.

The C4K program uniquely achieves the value of members on both sides of the aisle – in that it allows low income families, the majority of whom are people of color, to go to work, which affords them the pride of providing for their families.  Care 4 Kids gives these families the help they need to propel themselves from poverty and creates access to high quality learning experiences for their children while they work.  For many, it is the only source of support that they access through the state to cover the cost of childcare which is among the highest in the nation.

And while the decision to close the program will result in some forgoing work to stay at home, many will remain committed to their vision of economic independence.  Choosing instead, unreliable and low quality care, often times in unregulated and unsafe settings.  Regardless of the decision, the data and history has shown us that the impact will be the same, a life sentence for children of color to a second chance rather than a first chance society.

The fact is clear, for families of color, regardless of their economic means, but most profoundly for low income families.  The pathway to achieve their vision of success for their children is profoundly impaired by their decision to raise their families in Connecticut.

The countervailing view will invariably be, “What can we do if there is no money?  We cannot spend what we do not have.  These are bad economic times for everyone.”  But for many of Connecticut’s children of color, even in times of economic abundance, their access to quality care and education remains deferred.  And even though some may see the decision to close the C4K program as a temporary measure, history has demonstrated the pernicious legacy of unequal and delayed access to quality care and education for children of color.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his book Why We Can’t Wait, “The words ‘bad timing’ came to be ghosts haunting our every move…they did not realize that it was ridiculous to speak of timing when the clock of history showed that the Negro had already suffered one hundred years of delay.”  Sadly time appears to be standing still for children of color in Connecticut’s educational system.

It is for this reason that I urge legislators, on both sides of the aisle, and the governor, to look beyond the very narrow view of the current fiscal crisis and take a much broader perspective on how Connecticut can be proactive in ensuring success for children of color in its educational system.

I urge our elected officials to reopen the C4K program now and provide the required funding needed today and into the future to ensure that CT’s most vulnerable children begin on the right path from the very beginning.  It is time to put our money where our mouth is.

We can no longer wait!

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

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