By John McNamara
State Rep. Robert “Bobby” Sanchez (D-25) is the new House Chair of the Legislature’s Education Committee who brings a strong background in early childhood education to his leadership post in the General Assembly this year.
Sanchez, a former New Britain Board of Education member elected to the House in a 2011 special election, shared his priorities at a League of Women Voters legislative breakfast January 19th at New Britain Public Library.
“Teachers in early childhood education are not respected,” said Sanchez, noting that most early childhood professionals entrusted with the care and development of pre-schoolers are not fairly compensated. In Connecticut with its high cost of living, child care staff fare much better than the national average of $29,000 ($14 per hour), earning upto $40,150 ($19.30). Advocates, however, say classroom teachers and aides not covered by union contracts can fall below the average. On top of pay inequity, Sanchez also points to the requirement that all early child educators will need to hold bachelor’s degrees within a few years to meet accreditation standards. Getting those credentials means education expenses to make the grade as early childhood professionals.
Sanchez, a longtime case manager of early care and education and coordinator of the Fatherhood Initiative at New Britain’s Human Resource Agency, knows the pay struggles of the people he works with every day. Rep. Sanchez’ early childhood roots go back deeper than you may know. “Bobby” is the moniker he uses on election ballots and with friends — a name he probably latched on to when a teacher called him that at a Head Start classroom in New Britain when he was four years old. It may be that Sanchez is the first Education Chair who’s an alumnus of one of the Great Society’s most enduring programs that launched the movement for quality early childhood education for low-income children in the 1960s.
Sanchez’ views are in sync with the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance and its Executive Director, New Britain BOE Member Merrill Gay. “Early childhood teachers are among the lowest paid profession in the state,” according to the Alliance in advocating for supporting the child care work force last year. “Early childhood teachers often rely on Care4Kids, HUSKY, SNAP and fuel assistance to make ends meet.”
To address the issue, the Alliance and legislative allies such as Sanchez are likely to push for “an increase in the full-day, full-year rate to $10,000 per child for School Readiness and state funded Child Development Centers indexed to any increase in the minimum wage, a higher infant toddler rate in recognition of the much lower staff to child ratio, delaying the B.A. degree deadline, and providing a rate bonus to programs that reach the staff qualification goal so they can retain the staff.”
The Education Committee will be addressing a score of major issues in the 2019 session, including school safety, curriculum, the education cost sharing (ECS) formula for school districts and child care subsidies that can nudge the pay for early childhood teachers up a notch.
It may be a tall order to secure adequate school aid and child care subsidies with state government saddled with built-in deficits and the pent up needs of other key services in the state budget this year But Sanchez and his allies in education are prepared to make the case to Governor Lamont and the General Assembly that better pay for those who care for the very young are smart investments for the state’s future.