Last week was a disappointing one for Connecticut advocates of early childhood education. The state legislative session ended Wednesday, and legislators never raised H.B. 6359, which would have created an Office of Early Childhood, for a vote. This office would have streamlined state services, making child care delivery more efficient, effective, and navigable for children, families, and child care providers. All Our Kin was particularly invested in the bill as it had the potential to better integrate family child care providers into Connecticut’s early childhood education system, and might well have given them better access to funding and professional development opportunities. We pushed hard for H.B. 6359 from the beginning, testifying multiple times in favor of its passage.
The bill’s popularity makes the legislature’s failure to vote on it all the more frustrating. The Hartford Courant reported that advocates “[earned] seemingly universal support” for the Office of Early Childhood. It was last-minute political deal-making that killed the legislation, linking its fate to that of a measure allowing Sunday bow hunting. Children, as Maggie Adair of the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance put it, “were used as a bargaining chip.”
While we were at first incredibly encouraged when the state budget included provisions for an Office of Early Childhood, with the failure of HB 6359, such funds are now appropriated to an office that does not legally exist. Even if Governor Malloy intervenes, the Office’s efficacy is likely to be severely limited. The way forward from this legal conundrum is not yet clear.
I was shocked to see children’s needs compromised for political ends so early in my term at All Our Kin. I’m spending the summer as a fellow here through Yale’s President’s Public Service Fellowship, which allows Yale students to work and learn at public sector and nonprofit organizations in the New Haven area. The blow from the failure of the Office of Early Childhood came only in my second week of work on early childhood issues in Connecticut. Even though this failure came before I had a chance to really understand the political landscape of child care in Connecticut, I still found it deeply jarring, largely because of its great contrast to my to my experience just days before.
Last Monday, I traveled to Hartford to attend the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance’s ceremony honoring Children’s Champions—state legislators and the Governor—who had supported an Office of Early Childhood. Early childhood education advocates, including several young children, filled a large room at the Capitol to honor the 27 Senators and Representatives. I was particularly pleased to note that four were from New Haven, All Our Kin’s hometown. It would be hard to overstate the optimism of the Children’s Champions event. The celebration was a demonstration of everything that made H.B. 6359 strong—as the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance stated, it had the “leadership of the governor, broad bi-partisan support in the legislature, and overwhelming support of parents and the early childhood community.” Everyone in the room was working hard for the standard Governor Malloy set forth when he received his award: “Every child should have access to a quality early learning experience regardless of where they come from. Until that happens, our work is not done.”
While it is upsetting to see the positivity, collaboration and progress of the Children’s Champions celebration dashed by the legislature’s failure to raise H.B. 6359, I have not lost all of the event’s optimism. Last week threw me into the world of early childhood policy headfirst, and demonstrated to me the volatility of the field. The only constant in the equation was commitment: whether celebrating collaboration or desperately trying to solve political puzzles, parents, caregivers, advocates and lawmakers remain committed to the same goal: providing high-quality education to all of Connecticut’s young people. As I look forward into my third week at All Our Kin, I can see that the road to creating an Office of Early Childhood will not be smooth. But I can also see the strength of the partnerships that surround me, and I remain optimistic: All Our Kin is not alone in working for change. The commitment to quality early childhood care is far more enduring than political obstacles.