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Voices Speaking

January 21, 2016

CCJEF vs. Rell: Preschool is one path to equity but not on its own

Rachel Leventhal-Weiner, Ph.D.

Whether the state has an obligation to support preschool is at the center of a recent development in the CCJEF vs. Rell case. CCJEF, the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, is a group of municipal leaders, educators, advocates, parents and children who filed suit against the state’s education funding system in 2005 claiming that the state has not met its constitutional obligation to provide an adequate and equitable public education to all students. Since the time of the original filing, the State Superior Court issued a pretrial ruling in 2010 that the state is must provide an adequate standard of quality for public education for all children. As the trial date loomed, in September 2015, the state filed a motion in the case to exclude preschool as a potential remedy in the final decision of the case, claiming that the state constitution does not specifically include preschool as part of a public education. In a victory for CCJEF, in October 2015 the State Superior Court denied the state’s motion, stating that a “high quality preschool is an essential component of suitable educational opportunity.”

This ruling represents an important shift in the way we think about preschool as a necessary component of a public education. As the CCJEF case progresses, the state may consider the creation of a “universal” preschool system as one potential remedy for public school inequity. There is already widespread agreement that we must invest early in children’s lives, especially low-income children and children of color. However, early education advocates recognize that in order for preschool to be effective, it must be of high-quality. This means it must adhere to universal early learning standards, have low teacher-student ratios, and employ highly-qualified educators (who are offered competitive compensation so that they can be attracted to and retained in the field). Early education advocates have also emphasized that the state must fund preschool at a rate that will support all of the above. Access to high-quality preschool experiences is but one strategy among several to reduce our state’s persistent achievement gap and reduce inequities between low income students and students of color and their affluent, white peers.

While access to high-quality preschool programs remains vital to combat the achievement gap, as a state we must ensure that gains achieved in early education are sustainable in a high-quality K-12 system for all public school students. And though equitable investments in preschool and K-12 schooling are necessary, improving life opportunities in communities across the state requires an affirmative investment in the systems and programs that impact the day to day lives of Connecticut’s citizens. Specifically, we must invest in equitable opportunity for all citizens in housing, health, and higher education to impact educational experiences. Investments in early childhood experiences are only sustainable if we consider the ways that education, housing, health and higher education are connected to support children on their journey from childhood to adulthood.

Equity must begin early. The inequities in life opportunity begin long before children cross the threshold of their local public school. While preschool alone is not the panacea for deep race inequities in education and life outcomes, preschool provides one opportunity to ready children for future education. The state superior court argued that preschool is “essential” to “sustainable” life opportunities in its ruling. As arguments in the CCJEF vs. Rell case progress, we encourage advocates, stakeholders and citizens to stay focused on the importance of early education as a crucial driver of equitable access to opportunities for all of our state’s children.

Issue Areas:
Early Care, Education
achievement gap, CCJEF vs. Rell, education, preschool
January 13, 2016

10 Charts that Explain Connecticut’s Economic Recovery

Connecticut’s recovery from the Great Recession has created winners and losers, with significant disparities that can be tracked by geography, race, industry and age. The charts below provide the top line news culled from our 2015 State of Working Connecticut report (some charts are updated to reflect newly available data).

For more on these trends, read the full report here and RSVP to our 15th Annual Budget Forum, where we’ll take a deeper dive on the recovery’s effect on these disparities.

1. Total Number of Jobs in Connecticut Fewer Than Before the Great Recession.
While the total number of jobs in the United States rebounded to pre-recession levels over 18 months ago, Connecticut continues to fall short, with nearly 20,000 fewer jobs in September 2015 than in December 2007. Since the state recently recovered all of the private sector jobs lost in the recession, this difference results from lower public sector employment levels.

2. And Those Jobs That Are Coming Back are Concentrated in Low-Wage Industries
Of the state’s eight largest industries, only three have the same number of jobs, or more, than they had when the recession began – professional services, health care & social assistance, and accommodation & food services.

3. Unemployment Declines Mirror Region and Nation
In September 2015, unemployment in Connecticut and the average unemployment rate in neighboring states was 5.2%, higher than the national rate of 5.1%, and just above pre-Recession levels, when it fell below 5%. But that’s not the full story; nearly 40% of the unemployed have been unemployed for over six months – a higher share than in previous downturns and ninth highest in the nation.

4. But, Unemployment Varies Widely by Place
For example the rate is significantly higher in the cities of New Haven, Waterbury, Bridgeport, and Hartford than in the state as a whole.

5. …and  Unemployment Varies Widely by Race
Before the recession, the unemployment rate for black and Hispanic workers exceeded that of white residents by nearly five percentage points. But that gap’s grown during the recovery: for example, unemployment for black residents (13.1%) is now more than double the rate for white residents (5.1%).

6. As Low-Wage Industries Dominate Recovery, Wages Continue to Decline
Not unlike the national recovery, wage growth in Connecticut has stagnated or tumbled (a challenge for workers and state budgets alike). Since 2009, Connecticut’s median wage dropped $2.50, or 11.1%, compared to a 5.3 % drop in neighboring states and a 4.0 % drop nationally.

7. …Even Though Nutmeggers Work Harder than Before
While state productivity grew by 111.3% from 1979 to 2013, the median hourly wage increased just 22.7% over that time. Had Connecticut’s wage growth kept pace with productivity, the average worker would enjoy a median hourly wage of $35.24 in 2013.

8. Workers of Color and Ethnicity Experience Enormous Wage Gaps
When the recovery began in 2009, white workers made 40% more than Hispanic workers and 38% more than black workers. Six years later, white workers make 59% more than Hispanic workers and 37% more than black workers. Assuming full-time year-round work, that’s $16,764 less per year for Hispanic workers and $15,100 less for black workers – the equivalent of the annual cost of high-quality childcare. 

9.  Gap Widens Between the Highest and Lowest Earners
Between 1979 and 2014, wages for workers at the top 10% soared by 45% while workers at the bottom 10 percent saw their inflation adjusted wages fall by $0.26 per hour.

10. Health of Labor Force is Cause for Optimism Looking Forward
The prime age employment-to-population ratio measures the portion of workers from ages 25 to 54 who are employed. Following a recession-led decline, recent data show a sharp uptick – a positive sign when assessing economic recovery.

Fortunately, Connecticut is well equipped to tackle the challenges described here. As the state’s economy begins to pick up steam, ensuring shared prosperity requires state investment in human capital, such as high-quality education for all children and youth, from cradle to career, stronger tax credits for low-income working families and families with dependents, and property tax reform to address geographic resource disparities that threaten school quality and other local services.

Issue Areas:
Budget and Tax, Family Economic Security