Senate President Stephen Sweeney announced a new plan to invest in early education earlier this week as part of a larger New Jersey ‘Investment Plan.’ The proposal would include more than $165 million over two years in expanded preschool and other early-childhood programs.
Early Childhood Proposal
While plan details were spare, the proposal marks the first concerted effort since the early 2000’s to expand the State’s program. The plan seeks to build on New Jersey’s Supreme Court requirement in the 31 former Abbott districts to provide two years of full-day preschool to include 17 additional districts. The proposal calls for a two-year phase-in, with $62.7 million in the fiscal 2017 budget and $103 million in fiscal 2018.
Which districts those would be is just one of the questions to be resolved, but one likely possibility would be the 17 districts now receiving federal aid to start programs for four-year-olds from low-income families.
The proposal would also restore additional services in the Abbott districts for before- and after-school programs or wrap-around services. Cuts to those services over the past six years have been devastating for the Abbott districts and their families, officials said, as they seek to enroll more students. The proposal did not say how much that would cost.
A third piece of the proposal – also without a price tag — would create a loan pool funded by both public and private dollars to help establish new preschool programs across the state.
State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), chair of the Senate Education Committee, a champion on the issue, convening a hearing earlier this fall to start exploring the options and appear, has been tasked with moving proposal forward.
The next steps will be a set of bills from the Democratic leaders, lawmakers said, likely to come in the new session after the new year.
If enacted and funded, the plan is an incremental step toward a goal of universal preschool across the state or even just in communities with large low-income populations proposed by groups such as Pre-K Our Way. Estimates for achieving the latter, which would involve another 100 districts — have come in at close to $300 million a year.
The Larger Package
The Senate President and Senate Democrats announced the plan as part of a ‘far-reaching economic investment plan that will help generate growth and expand economic opportunities with targeted investments in key areas that will provide benefits for the people of New Jersey.’
Entitled “New Jersey: Investing In You,” the plan targets six key sectors with legislation: early childhood education, college affordability, world class transportation, “promise neighborhoods” to revitalize communities, public-private partnerships to aid job creation and retirement security.