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Conn. Lawmakers Seek Pre-K Expansion, Funded in Part With Tobacco Money

Democrats in the Connecticut legislature have said they want to devote $200 million over 10 years to fund preschool slots in the state. 

The plan, called "Connecticut Smart Start" and unveiled Wednesday, would use $100 million in state bonds and $100 million from the state's tobacco trust fund, which was established after Connecticut and most other states sued cigarette companies and settled the case in 1998. It would provide enough funding for 50,000 children, lawmakers said—a large increase from increase in preschool seats that Gov. Dannell Malloy proposed in his budget. The governor recommended an expansion that would provide 4,000 more seats for at-risk children by 2019. In an interview with the Hartford Courant newspaper, Malloy said he was unfamiliar with the details of the legislative proposal and said he would be "happy to take a look at it." 

(The White House has proposed using a tobacco tax to pay for its $75 billion preschool expansion proposal.)

The new programs would be required to get certification from the National Association for the Education of Young Children as a marker of quality, the proposal states. And space for this large new program would come from public buildings, the lawmakers say. "We have empty space in many of our schools, we have public school districts that are committed to providing high-quality preschool, and we have a history of state and local educational partnerships that get things done," said state Senator Beth Bye, a Democrat from West Hartford. 

Opposition to the plan came from Republican lawmakers, as well as a group representing private preschool providers, according to an article in the Connecticut Mirror. ""We have huge concerns," Gerry Pastor, a leader of the Connecticut Child Care Association, told the newspaper. "There is unquestionably capacity [to increase attendance] at private programs." Education Week recently explored the competition for students between public and private preschool programs.

The legislative session in Connecticut is scheduled to wrap up May 7. 

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