Democrats Unveil Bills Allocating Millions for Expansion of Preschool

John Mooney | February 9, 2016 | Education
Expansion of early childhood programs among legislative priorities set by party leaders

The first bills calling for expansion of preschool in the state – a priority for New Jersey’s Democratic leadership — were filed last week in both Senate and Assembly.

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), who chairs the Senate’s education committee, filed two bills.

The first bill would allocate $103 million toward establishing two years of full-day preschool in 17 communities, with preference given to low-income districts.

The other, the Early Childhood Innovation Act, would establish a pilot loan fund through the Economic Development Authority that would allow private funders to leverage their money to establish preschool programs operated by non-government organizations.

[related]In the Assembly, Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Middlesex) is among the prime sponsors of new legislation allocating $110 million in new state money for preschool expansion. The other sponsors include state Assemblywomen Mila Jasey (D-Essex) and Betty Lou DeCroce (R-Morris), and Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex). The four will hold a press conference today in Clifton to discuss the bill.

The bills have been widely expected, as expanded preschool has moved to the forefront of the Democratic agenda going into the next gubernatorial election. Early childhood programs were among a package of “public investment” initiatives announced by Democratic leaders in December.

“These bills will allow for the expansion of high-quality preschool in the state, by first funding the next phase of expansion to additional districts,” Ruiz said yesterday.

“They will also create an innovative program that would utilize private and philanthropic funds to help pay the cost of early childhood education programs in the future,” she said. “This is a first step to expanding high-quality pre-K to all children in the state, but it is a major step forward.”

For all the Democratic support, it is far more uncertain how the preschool initiative will fare when Gov. Chris Christie announces his next state budget later this month.