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Proposed 5-year overhaul to CT child care system would cost $2 billion

Gov. Ned Lamont signed an executive order establishing the Blue Ribbon Panel on Child Care in March at Boehringer Ingelheim's on-site Children's Learning Center in Ridgefield, CT.
Erica E. Phillips
/
CT Mirror
Gov. Ned Lamont signed an executive order establishing the Blue Ribbon Panel on Child Care in March at Boehringer Ingelheim's on-site Children's Learning Center in Ridgefield, CT.

An expert panel convened in March to develop a five-year improvement plan for Connecticut’s early childhood education system submitted its final report to Gov. Ned Lamont last week, laying out the policy steps and funding required for “an equitable, high-quality, and sustainable system that ensures that every child has a quality educational foundation that will prepare them to grow, learn, and succeed.”

The cost to implement the plan over the next five years is estimated at over $2 billion, which encompasses higher wages, simplified credentialing and expanded benefits for teachers; more parent subsidies and flexible child care schedules; grants to help stabilize providers; thousands of new child care slots; and myriad technical system improvements among other goals.

The plan phases in dozens of “key action steps” over the next five years, starting with workforce development, teacher benefits and compensation, and improvements to system infrastructure in the first three years. That’s followed by expanded affordability and access for families in years 2 to 5.

“You can’t just expand — you need the systems in place to do that,” Beth Bye, commissioner of the Office of Early Childhood, said.

Bye said the plan’s first years include “some groundbreaking things in terms of workforce development,” which was one of the most desperate issues raised during public meetings the panel facilitated. “We needed to make some changes in our approach to attracting and recruiting early childhood professionals. The plan calls for that, and we’ll be doing that,” she said.

Once those initial steps are taken to stabilize the system and boost the workforce, the next years would see eligibility for child care subsidies expand to include more families. High-quality programs for the youngest babies, children with special needs and under-resourced communities would also receive additional investment.

“One reason it’s a lot of money is because there’s a lot that needs to be done,” said Chris DiPentima, president of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association and a member of the Blue Ribbon Panel.

DiPentima said he was impressed with the process the panel undertook over the last nine months. Distinct working groups addressed different components of the system, and panel members heard from stakeholders all over the state, as well as outside experts. “Overall, the plan is a really solid plan with good recommendations,” he said. “The challenge now is probably what the biggest challenge was at the very beginning — the funding mechanisms.”

State funding will be just one component of the financial resources needed to carry out the plan. Federal lawmakers are weighing legislation to provide support for child care, and Connecticut could receive as much as $100 million a year. And state lawmakers could consider establishing a new revenue stream specifically for early childhood education in the form of a tax on cannabis products or gambling — as other states have done. Philanthropy and the private sector will also likely play roles in supporting the system.

Bye said the potential return on that $2 billion investment is “really eye-opening.” Experts working with the panel calculated many more billions of dollars in value would be generated just by enabling parents to work — in business earnings, family earnings and payroll tax revenues to the state.

DiPentima said child care will be one of CBIA’s stated priorities in the 2024 legislative session. The group will be advocating for a funding model known as “tri-share,” where working parents share the cost of child care equally with their employer and the state. “That would be one funding mechanism. It’s going to take several,” DiPentima said.

CBIA also supports streamlined credentialing for early childhood teachers and raising mandated student-to-teacher ratios in order to expand capacity in the system. Overall, DiPentima said, a strong child care system is one way to “get more people into the workforce and recruit more people to Connecticut.”

Lamont will present his proposal for the plan’s first year to the General Assembly early next year.

“The governor will have a proposal that's grounded in this plan,” Bye said. “It might not be exactly this plan, but it's going to be grounded in this plan, and that's a huge step for our state.”

Launched in 2010, The Connecticut Mirror specializes in in-depth news and reporting on public policy, government and politics. CT Mirror is nonprofit, non-partisan, and digital only.