Connecticut Voices For Children, a non-profit advocacy group based in New Haven, published a report on the state of Connecticut’s early childhood education (ECE) landscape. In it, they outline several challenges they believe are causing higher prices and fewer openings at daycares across the state.

This is not a new challenge. Governor Ned Lamont previously convened a Blue Ribbon Panel to discuss challenges and possible solutions with stakeholders, including parents of ethnic minorities, those who work odd or unpredictable hours, daycare providers, and others. The goal was to establish a five-year plan to increase access in the sector and to support families, providers and the state’s economy. The panel delivered its final report to the Governor on December 8th, 2023.

The Blue Ribbon Panel’s report highlights opportunities for workforce development, support and retention; increasing affordability; increasing industry flexibility and responsiveness; and increases in funding.

The Blue Ribbon report noted that one in four households in Connecticut are single-parent homes, and the vast majority of those are in Black and brown communities. This includes 58% of Black mothers, 48% of Latina mothers, and 17% of white mothers who are raising young children alone. All of these parents must find external childcare for their kids while they are working, but high prices and few openings pose a challenge.

“Connecticut’s early childhood system is in need of repair, and the repair is urgent and extensive, given decades of neglect,” reads the Blue Ribbon report. “The current system is inefficiently funded and is currently subsidized by its low-income workforce, almost all of whom are female and a majority of whom are women of color.”

Voices for Children’s report agrees with this finding, stating that daycare providers are often overworked and underpaid. Staffing in daycare centers is low, and the number of spaces available to families of young children is dictated not by the demand for childcare but by the number of staff members available to provide that care. Adding to the problem is the declining number of ECE providers in the state since at least 2010, from roughly 4,500 providers in 2010, to around 3,200 in 2023, with the largest losses coming from less expensive family home-based providers.

Then there is the price. The 2023 Annie E. Casey Kids Count Data Book, which tracks children’s well-being noted that ECE can cost anywhere from $11,000 a year for a “family childcare home” to more than $18,000 for a daycare center or other formal program (also noted in the Voices for Children report). Connecticut is the third most expensive state for childcare.

The book also noted that, despite decreases in the number of children living in poverty, Connecticut students have been struggling more and more with educational markers.

According to Voices for Children, Connecticut has generally fared well compared to the national averages when it comes to access to ECE, but the gaps now are widening at a faster-than-average rate. In the last decade, the number of children who enter kindergarten without former schooling (daycare and preschool) has risen by 4%. Nationally, that average only rose 1%.

The Voices for Children report argues that a lack of access to quality ECE can have adverse effects on a child’s future learning and states that high-quality ECE can reduce disparities and close achievement gaps for young children, setting them up for success in future years. This is especially important for the growing number of children with learning differences or developmental disabilities who require more personalized or intensive assistance.

But it isn’t just childhood learning on the line. A lack of access to childcare – whether due to affordability or availability – causes a growing number of adults to leave the workforce. For some in two-parent households, it can be less expensive to forego a salary than to pay for daycare and preschool. Fewer adults remaining in the workforce can mean a hit to the state’s economy, one that is already struggling to fill open positions.

“There are so many critical issues that should be addressed in the upcoming legislative session,” says Emily Byrne, Voices for Children’s Executive Director. “However, we would argue that early care and education, because it is so deeply intersectional, is paramount to advancing family economic security.”