With the help of $1 million, a new group called NH ChILD has kicked off a 10-year effort to transform the landscape of early child education in New Haven.
If all goes according to ambitious plans, the initiative will provide access to top quality early learning for all of the city’s kids from birth to 8 years old.
That news and transformative aspiration emerged Friday morning at the Friends Center for Children at the top of East Grand Avenue in Fair Haven Heights.
The occasion was a meet-and-greet and welcome for Beth Bye, the new commissioner of the State Office of Early Education. On hand were U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Friends Center Executive Director Allyx Schiavone, and some 50 early childhood movers and shakers.
At the event, Schiavone previewed the launch of the new group, in advance of an official announcement scheduled for Monday. The idea has been percolating among city educators since 2017. The aim is to advocate for increasing access for kids, especially from lower-income and working families, to get good child care, and to make that happen through upgrading the training, pay, and support of teachers in the field.
At Friday’s event, attendees heard about how the state has a need for 50,000 daycare spots. Meanwhile that state reimbursement rate for programs like Care 4 Kids, which reimburses poor parents, is so low it covers as little as 4 percent of the cost. (Click here to read a previous story about local daycare providers pressing Bye recently on that subject.)
Over half of the state’s daycare centers are below the quality needed to make a positive difference in kids lives, said Bye. “Mediocre or poor,” is how she described them.
Among the chief culprits: chronically low pay, low esteem and negative gender bias attached to the largely female job of early child care teachers.
“There was a time,” said Bye, “when the child care worker was a social justice worker. We need as a culture to value early childhood educators. We’ve lost ground on wages for early childhood educators. It all starts with wages. For the number one predictor of the quality is wages” of the teachers.
The new group NH ChILD aims to change over the coming decade, starting here in New Haven. Among the goals:
• 2,500 new early care spots in New Haven.
• a professional learning community for all of the city’s 642 early childhood educators.
• 68 new in-home daycare programs.
• an access network so one common application can avoid the frenzy of multiple approaches families currently go through.
• 700 new jobs for women—60 percent of them black or Latino—in the field and to support all early child teachers who must now have a bachelor’s degree.
Schiavone reported that the group has received a $1 million grant from the New Haven based Stonesthrow Fund. It hopes to raise $50 million over 10 years.
Schiavone said the funding will make possible the hiring of a director, among other first steps. The advisory board for the project is led by Schiavone, Elm City Communities Executive Director Karen DuBois-Walton, and United Way of Greater New Haven President Jennifer Heath.
Although the atmosphere at the breakfast gathering was collegial and low-keyed, there was an unmistakable sense of urgency. Schiavone’s center currently works with 104 kids; it has a waiting list of 169, with only six spots available for next year. The center plans to open a new classroom later this year and building a new building in 2020, she announced.
Citywide, 3,000 New Haven kids need of the kind of quality day care that the Friends Center provides.
Bye said many providers are struggling to get by because reimbursement rates in the Care 4 Kids program— the vouchers that moderate-income and poor families can qualify for through Bye’s office — are exceptionally low in Connecticut.
She said she’s working to raise that rate and to grow the access to the reimbursements from the current 14,000 families to 18,000. The federal funding is there, through the state, Bye reported; her proposal is pending at the state Office of Policy and Management.
DeLauro said advocates’ work is cut out for them in the light of President Trump’s proposed budget. The federal pre-school development block grant, which was $250 million last year, has been zeroed up in the budget the president submitted.