Until recently, when parents in Hartford, Connecticut were looking for early childhood education programs, they didn’t find many at the city’s public schools, which focused on their traditional mission of educating the K-12 age group.
But this year, a push to expand preschool programs at the public schools has left many community agencies struggling to cope with reduced enrollments and falling revenues as parents now leave their 3- and 4-year-olds at the public schools.
“It has hurt us,” said preschool provider Mercedes Croutch, telling The Hartford Courant last November that her Women’s League Inc. Child Development Center was down almost 20 children and had no waiting list for the first time in its 83-year history. Many of the city’s nationally accredited community agencies shared the same experience, despite having provided child care to families in the area for decades, normally operating at capacity with waiting lists.
“We lost all the preschoolers,” Mount Olive Day Care Center director Charlotte Martino told Courant reporter Cynde Rodriguez, adding she’d be out of business if she relied just on preschoolers. She was critical of the public schools for giving little consideration to community programs.
Hartford school officials advertised that preschool registration should be done at the public elementary schools, where parents were supposed to get information not only on the public schools’ preschool programs but also those of the city’s 13 other providers. But parents chose the public school program because they assumed it was free, finding out only later that there was a weekly charge based on income.
“Parents think because the programs are in a public school, it’s more of an educational program,” said Croutch. “That’s not so. We have a very strong educational program.”