NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk has been awarded 70 additional School Readiness opportunities, known as “pre-K slots,” for the city’s low-income children, state Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) announced Wednesday.
The Norwalk opportunities were announced as part of 1,020 total slots awarded on a competitive basis to municipalities across the state. The lion’s share of the slots went to Connecticut’s 18 Priority School Districts, which include the eight towns in the state with the largest population, the top 11 towns with the highest number of children under the temporary family assistance program, and the top 11 towns with the highest ratio of children under the temporary family assistance program (some towns qualify in multiple categories).
Norwalk was granted the fourth-highest number of slots. Bridgeport got 126, New Britain 101 and Bristol 73. After Norwalk’s 70, the most slots went to Hartford (40).
The last time new slots were made available, in 2010, 50 were awarded to Norwalk.
“Creating additional opportunities for children to participate in quality pre-K programming is the surest way to improve their lifetime academic performance,” Duff aid. “Preparing children to learn at an early age puts them on a path to success for the rest of their life.”
Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling, who discussed a need for such a focused program in early April, said he is “thrilled” to see the state focus on preschool education.
“I’m absolutely thrilled,” Rilling said. “The goal is to get as many seats allocated as we can. I think pre-K is a tried and true program that gets our children prepared for school. It shows our governor is committed to Norwalk.”
Rilling also gave a nod to the Norwalk delegation in Hartford.
“They advocated very strongly to get as many seats for Norwalk as they could,” he said of Duff, Bruce Morris (D-140) and Chris Perone (D-137).
Republican Larry Cafero (R-142), the outgoing House minority leader, voted for the bill despite misgivings about the way it is being financed, as did Gail Lavielle (R-143).
The School Readiness Program is a state-funded initiative that provides preschool to low-income 3- and 4-year-olds in Connecticut school districts with the greatest need. Each pre-K slot provides per-child funding to either public or private pre-K programming providers. Public Act 14-39, which easily passed both houses of the state legislature and was signed by Gov. Dannel Malloy in May, increases the amount of these grants from $8,346 per year per child to $8,670 per year.
The expansion is part of a five-year plan to expand the School Readiness Program to serve a total of 4,010 additional children by 2019. The plan will provide pre-kindergarten for approximately 1,000 additional children for each of the first three years and 500 children during each of the last two years of the plan. The 1,020 new slots announced Wednesday will become available at the beginning of the upcoming school year.
The Office of Early Childhood, also created in legislation passed this year, is responsible for the administration of the School Readiness Program.