Teachers, administrators laud pre-K expansion in Conn.

State Capitol building in Hartford. (File)
State Capitol building in Hartford. (File)

HAMDEN, Conn. (WTNH) — More pre-kindergarten classes like the one at the Helen Street School in Hamden are now a certainty with an agreement among legislative leaders to fund at least 50,000 slots for pre-K across the state over the next decade.

Nearly every bit of research now concludes that quality pre-K – with classes of no more than about 16 kids each – can drastically increase future success in the higher grades and later in life.

Amy Mesite has been a teacher for 28 years, the past eight in pre-K. She says it’s easy to see why some kids entering school without pre-K can be a year or two behind developmentally and end up feeling humiliated and hating school.

“Nobody at home is talking to them, reading to them,” Mesite said, “so they have a lack of vocabulary, some of them don’t know what celery is.”

As News 8 first reported in February, Gov. Dannel Malloy – who started universal pre-K in Stamford when he was mayor – was asking the legislature to fund 9,000 more slots statewide over the next five years.

“What we’re talking about today is something that has never been done before in Connecticut – an extraordinary step forward to universal pre-K,” said state Sen. Don Williams (D-29).

Legislative leaders announced they are expanding Malloy’s plan five-fold, dedicating $200 million to pre-K expansion over the next decade.

They’ll pay for it with a portion of money from a tobacco company settlement and will borrow to retrofit unused classroom space for pre-K.

Legislators are calling this new program “Connecticut Smart Start” and school teachers and administrators said Wednesday that it is the single most important effort in closing the state’s wide achievement gap between inner city and suburban schools.

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