Office of Early Childhood
Supported a partnership to establish the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood to coordinate programs and funding
At the end of 2009, the Memorial Fund finalized its strategic plan through 2014 with a lead strategy that included the action “to convene communities, statewide organizations, state agencies, policymakers and other stakeholders to create a vision for a more effective early childhood system in Connecticut.” This decision was made at the urging of Discovery statewide and community grantees.
Lack of coordination and a common vision for early childhood programs has long been a concern of early childhood advocates. A confusing array of programs and funding streams makes it almost impossible to offer unified services and monitor program efficiency. The need for a coordinated system was well documented.
In 2010 and 2011, a series of events transpired that hastened the pace of the systems work and created an opportunity to establish an Office of Early Childhood to streamline the funding and services offered by multiple state agencies.
First, newly elected Governor Dannel Malloy expressed strong support for early childhood, particularly expanding access to early childhood programs. Though initially opposed to the idea of creating a new agency, he significantly expanded access to the state preschool program and began the development of a quality rating improvement system in his first two years in office.
Also in 2010, The Connecticut Commission on Educational Achievement, a bipartisan commission composed primarily of business leaders, released its report on Connecticut’s achievement gap. The report included a 10-year plan with recommendations on how to close the gap, including establishing a separate state department of early childhood education.
Discovery statewide grantees pooled their resources to hire a consultant from the BUILD initiative to look at early childhood systems in other states and provide recommendations. The BUILD report and a subsequent informational forum that the statewide organizations organized for the Human Services and Education Committees were viewed as critical in influencing policymakers’ thinking on the efficacy of an office of early childhood.
In 2011, legislation was passed to plan and develop a coordinated, comprehensive and aligned system of early care, education, and child development. Though advocates had hoped for a bill that would establish a coordinating state agency, this legislation laid the groundwork for an office of early childhood, carved out a role for philanthropy in planning and implementation, and established local early childhood councils (Discovery collaboratives) as part of the structure.
Supporting Early Childhood System Planning
After the passage of the planning bill, a group of funders who had met regularly as an information-sharing affinity group came together to support the planning process through the Connecticut Council for Philanthropy. The fourteen funders of the Early Childhood Funders Collaborative, including community foundations, United Ways, private and corporate foundations, raised $175,000 to support the State in meeting the requirements of the 2011 planning bill. Over the next two years, the Collaborative’s funding supported the research, grantwriting and technical assistance instrumental to both the State’s Race to the Top application for federal funding and technical assistance to the planning team via the BUILD initiative.
In 2012, the Memorial Fund Trustees voted to reserve $1 million over the next two years for the Office of Early Childhood, including staff capacity building, consultation to the early childhood team, and the creation of a “backbone organization” to support early childhood systems integration as a public private partnership.
A Coalition Works to Establish an Office of Early Childhood
In May 2012, Myra Jones-Taylor was hired to assemble a team that would create a plan for a comprehensive early childhood system for Connecticut. The 2013 report called for one office to coordinate the various programs housed in five different state agencies. "Connecticut lacks a unified vision for early childhood policy and service delivery," Jones Taylor wrote in her report for the governor and legislature.
Meanwhile, a coalition of early childhood and education advocates, funders, the CT Council for Philanthropy, and community collaboratives - much of it coordinated by the Alliance - were building relationships with key leaders and supporters, making calls, meeting with leaders, and testifying at committee hearings. This was a fully integrated effort with many moving parts. There was a sense among many stakeholders that this was a “moment in time” to think and act collectively.
The effort paid off. Not only did Governor Malloy’s budget proposal include funds for an Office of Early Childhood, he also highlighted early childhood several times during his budget address. The bill garnered bipartisan support. By all accounts, the bill would pass easily and the Office of Early Childhood would be established by law.
Lawmakers indeed passed a budget that included funding for the new office in the next year. However, they failed to pass the bill that would have established the office because the legislation got tied up in an unrelated issue. After a few uncertain weeks, Governor Malloy created the office through an executive order. Though there is unquestioningly bipartisan support for the Office of Early Childhood, supporters see a need to pursue the reintroduction of the legislation for the Office at the first available opportunity.
A Plan for an Early Childhood System for Connecticut includes mention of an “Innovation and Investment Institute.” The Institute’s functions will include capacity building, research and development, and communication and coordination among public and private funders and stakeholders in the healthy development and education of young children. It will support the local early childhood councils as critical components of the State system.
The Memorial Fund has so far released $300,000 of the $1 million set aside for support of this institute as well as strategic planning, capacity building and staff training for the next Office. The funds will be matched by new State funding for the core support of the Early Childhood Office, as well as by other foundations and funders who participate in the Early Childhood Funders Collaborative.
There is movement toward building the Institute as a mechanism for sustaining the local community collaborative councils as effective partners with the Office of Early Childhood. The strong public/private relationships among the Governor’s office, the State Department of Education staff, the Planning Team, foundations, advocates, and local communities will provide a foundation for longer-term partnerships in support of the Institute.