State funds spots for 108 more local preschoolers among 1,020 statewide

Several local school districts will receive 108 of the 1,020 new preschool spots under the state-funded School Readiness Program, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Wednesday in a news conference.

“Investing in high-quality education is the single most important investment we can make in our state and our economy,” Malloy said at a press conference in Meriden to announce the funding. “That has driven my efforts from day one as mayor of Stamford and governor of Connecticut. With this expansion, we are taking immediate steps to provide 1,020 additional children in low-income families with a strong start and foundation for lifelong success.”

Local programs eligible to receive spots are enrolled in the School Readiness Program, which provides funding for preschool for low-income 3- and 4-year-olds in priority and competitive districts in the state. Expansion of the program was approved by the General Assembly this spring.

In the priority district category, Norwich will receive 36 allocated slots and New London will receive 12 slots at the beginning of the next school year.

“It obviously will give children more of an opportunity to get a preschool experience, which we know increases the likelihood of success,” New London Superintendent Nicholas A. Fischer said.

In addition, as competitive districts — based on the number of low-income families — Griswold will receive 26 slots, Groton 13, Voluntown 15, Led­yard three, and Sprague six.

“We’re ecstatic,” said Kevin Trejo, chairman of Children First Groton, which is working on a townwide plan for early childhood education. “The more we get, the better it is for the kids of Groton.”

He said Groton had 33 slots in the program last year, then gained five more from December until June. He said he’s not sure whether the state is now adding 13 spaces onto the original 33 or onto the 38, but he’s glad to have whatever is available.

The program, located at Riverfront Children’s Center on Thames Street and The Groton Early Childhood Development Center on Poquonnock Road, offers not only educational opportunity to children but health screenings as well, Trejo said.

“There will be at least 46 seats for parents who don’t have the money to send their kids to prekindergarten,” he said.

The preschool expansion is part of a five-year plan to expand the state’s school readiness program to serve 4,010 additional children by 2019 by adding approximately 1,000 additional children for each of the first three years and 500 children during each of the last two years of the plan.

Lynn DePina, director of the Bishop Early Learning Center and Norwich Family Resource Centers, said Norwich Public Schools will receive the 31 slots announced for the city Wednesday, and private providers will receive five slots.

The school readiness preschool classes at the Bishop Early Learning Center will receive 20 half-day slots and the Family Resource Center, which will move to the former Deborah Tennant-Zinewicz School on Case Street, will receive 11 full-day slots, DePina said.

c.bessette@theday.com

Staff Writer Colin A. Young contributed to this report.

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