The proposed bill would use public funds to pay for about 4,000 three and four-year-olds to attended pre-K, primarily in Connecticut’s Priority, Alliance and Competitive School Districts, which are districts the state has determined need the most support.
This means that over the next five fiscal years 1,484 Hispanic children could receive a jump-start to their education, which proponents say is a major step in helping to close the state’s achievement gap.
“The earlier they are introduced to their numbers, and letters, and colors, the better chance they have,” said Rep. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford. Rojas, who sits on the legislature’s Education Committee, said research points to the achievement gap actually starting before a child even enters school. “A lot has to do with where you were born, who your parents are, and what your economic situation is,” Rojas said.
State Department of Education statistics indicate that about one-third of Latino students in third grade are reading at grade level and about one-third do not graduate high school.
For Rojas and other advocates, one way to help economically disadvantaged children is to give them the same access to education that others have. To do this though, they believe the state needs to assist parents who cannot afford sending their children to private preschools.
Middlesex Community College’s Meriden Center has “accepted” more than 66 new students – all middle school students from Meriden and Southington. These high-achieving students have been selected to be part of the program known as the Meriden Enrichment Academy at the Meriden Center, which was created in collaboration with the Meriden Public Schools in the spring of 2012. The academy, which consists of workshops taught by MxCC instructors, runs programs on Saturdays in March and April. This spring students from the Southington District will be participating in the academy as well.
The first set of workshops will be “Make Your Own Website” with Adam Chiara and “Introduction to Video Production,” taught by Robert Mowen. The second set of workshops will be “Using the New York Times for Critical Reading and Thinking” with Barbara Giffin, and “Creating Animation and Video Games” taught by Annjanette Bennar.
“The Middlesex Community College partnership will offer extraordinary opportunity to sixth graders within our district, said Dr. Joseph Erardi, superintendent of Southington Public Schools. “This Saturday enrichment program, housed within the MxCC Meriden campus, allows our middle school youngsters to individualize their learning in an optimal state-of-the-art learning environment.”
While Connecticut took a small step in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s march towards having the state’s minimum wage increased to $10.10 per hour, the bill is not being greeted by open arms by all in the state’s Latino community.
Richard DeJesus, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Bridgeport, agrees that an increase could help low-wage workers and many in the minority community, but a $1.40 per hour increase he says will burden businesses too much in the current economy. “We have to strive for government participation without getting too far ahead of ourselves and hurting the economy,” DeJesus said.
The chamber intends to take an official public stance in the next few weeks on the issue after studying what impact the increase would have on their members. DeJesus said the chamber will be looking into how this will affect businesses when it comes to all the factors that go along with a wage increase. Like having to pay more for insurance and unemployment taxes.
“The last time it increased was different. This is a substantial raise,” DeJesus said.
A public hearing on the bill was held recently, which calls for an incremental increase in the state’s minimum wage each year until it reached $10.10 in January of 2017. The state’s current minimum wage is $8.70.
Senator Terry Gerratana, D-New Britain/Berlin, and vice chair of the Labor and Public Employees Committee, supports the measure, which is a part of the governor’s budget recommendations. “I see it as a quality of life issue,” Gerratana said. “Anything we can do to raise the quality of life, I’m for.”
Gerratana says large businesses are not paying a “living wage,” the government often has to provide minimum wage workers with state services to survive. She said this in effect means the government is essentially subsidizing these businesses.
While Gerratana understands that small businesses are concerned over the increase, she said that many businesses are already paying close to what the proposal would mandate. Additionally, the increases are happening over the next few years, easing the burden. “Keeping in mind the costs for small businesses, it’s always a trade off for quality of life and to be able to afford what you need,” Gerratana said.