Early Childhood Bill Package Clears Senate Education Panel

Ruiz ICC

Includes State Department of Early Childhood, Full-Day Kindergarten & Pre-K Expansion

TRENTON – The Senate Education Committee today advanced a package of bills sponsored by Education Chair M. Teresa Ruiz designed to improve the lives of children in New Jersey and help working parents balance the 21st Century demands of their jobs and families.

The bills would expand high-quality preschool programs to additional school districts, establish full-day kindergarten in all public school districts in the state, fund wrap-around services for preschool children in former Abbott districts, and create a state Department of Early Childhood dedicated to providing the most effective programs for New Jersey children and families in the most efficient way. The legislation would also create a ‘pay-for-success’ pilot program that would allow non-governmental entities to help pay the cost of expanding early childhood education programs.

“There is nothing more important than ensuring the success of New Jersey’s children, and that means creating policies that support their healthy development from the earliest age,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “These proposals are focused on streamlining and strengthening early childhood programs and expanding access to high-quality education programs. They are also designed to modernize our policies to reflect the challenges faced by many families today with both parents working and struggling to meet the increasing demands of a 21st Century economy.”

The bills approved today by the committee would:

Create a Department of Early Childhood (S1454) Ruiz Establishes as a new principal department within the Executive Branch the Department of Early Childhood to bring the programs and services currently offered in four separate state departments – which include child care resource and referral agencies, New Jersey Home Visitation Program, and WIC breastfeeding programs – under one department. The commissioner would serve as a member of the governor’s cabinet, subject to the advice and consent of the Senate.

Require Full-Day Kindergarten Statewide (SCS for S638/S1455) Turner/Ruiz – Require all school districts to provide full-day kindergarten programs for their students.

Pre-K Expansion (S997) Ruiz – The bill would expand early childhood education in the state, as contemplated under the 2008 School Funding Reform Act. The legislation directs the Commissioner of Education to provide state aid to up to 17 qualified districts for the purpose of providing free access to full-day preschool for all three- and four-year-old children residing in the school district, giving priority to districts with the highest concentration of at-risk students. The bill would dedicate $103 million to the Department of Education for the expansion.

Early Childhood Innovation Act (S973) Ruiz/Beach – The bill would create a five-year innovation loan pilot program within the New Jersey Economic Development Authority that would allow non-governmental entities to pay the cost of expanding early childhood education programs and receive a portion of shared state savings resulting from the investment.

Restore Before and After Care Programs (S1456) Ruiz – Expand eligibility for “wrap-around” child care services provided to families in former Abbott school districts. This would restore the before and after care services that historically supplemented state-funded preschool, covering up to four hours of before and after-school care during the school year and full-day care in the summer. Stringent restrictions were placed on the program in 2010; the bill would restore the income eligibility limit to 250 percent of the federal poverty level and amend the work requirements to allow parents who work part-time to receive subsidized child care beyond school day hours. Provides an $18 million appropriation.

“We received a great deal of constructive testimony in today’s committee on this bill package and I look forward to working with all of the stakeholders to advance the shared goal of expanding early childhood education in New Jersey, which is critical to the success of our children and the state,” said Senator Ruiz.