Early Childhood Offerings Would Expand with New Legislative Package

All-day kindergarten, tax credits – and even a new Department of Early Childhood – proposed by influential state Senate Democrat

Credit: Martin Griff
State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex)
Early childhood education is getting a further boost from the state’s Democrat-led Senate, as a new package of bills announced yesterday would offer all-day kindergarten for all and provide tax credits for childcare expenses.

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, announced the series of bills to supplement another package announced last month that called for expanded preschool for students from low-income families.

[related]In addition the all-day kindergarten and tax credits, the latest package – some of it recycled from previous bills – also includes more funding for after-school programs and home visitations, and even calls for creation of a new cabinet-level state Department of Early Childhood.

The price tag, not including the tax credits, would be about $200 million a year, according to Ruiz’s office, including $78 million for all-day kindergarten.

That’s no small sum when overall aid to school districts next year under Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed budget is slated to go up less than $100 million, with no additional money for early childhood education.

But Ruiz, as chair of the Senate’s education committee, brings political weight to the proposal, and how to pay for it was not her focus yesterday.

“These proposals are focused on streamlining and strengthening early childhood programs and expanding access to high-quality child care and education programs,” Ruiz said in a press release.

The package consists of five bills in all:

  • Create a Department of Early Childhood (S-1454) – A new department that would combine services now being provided by five different departments, from Family Services to Health to Education.
  • Full-Day Kindergarten (S-1455) – Would require that all school districts provide full-day kindergarten programs within two years. Currently, 80 percent of 5-year-olds attend all-day programs, while 20 percent are still in half-day. Estimated cost of $78.2 million.
  • Child Care Tax Credit (S-1453) – A state income tax credit for eligible families of up to $1,000 for married couples and $500 for single individuals for their childcare expenses. No cost estimate.
  • Restore Before and After Care Programs (S-1456) – Restoration of “wrap-around” child-care services provided to families in 31 low-income districts. Provides an $18 million appropriation.
  • Expand Home Visitation Program for New Mothers (S-1475) – A three-year Medicaid home visitation demonstration project designed to provide ongoing health and parenting information. No cost estimate, but would be federal funding and require Medicaid waiver.
  • We’re in this together
    For a better-informed future. Support our nonprofit newsroom.
    Donate to NJ Spotlight