- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 11, 2014

MERIDEN, Conn. (AP) - More than 1,000 additional pre-kindergarten slots are being allocated to 46 communities across Connecticut, marking the latest step in an effort pushed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to eventually provide universal access to pre-kindergarten across the state.

Appearing Wednesday at the Meriden YMCA Child Care Center before an audience of 3- and 4-year-olds, as well as local officials and teachers, the Democratic governor said pre-K provides a foundation for future success for children.

“We know that investing in high-quality early education is the single most important investment we can make in our state and our economy,” said Malloy, who is seeking re-election and is expected to tout his commitment to universal pre-K during the campaign.

“That’s what’s driven my efforts throughout my career as mayor of Stamford and for the three-and-a-half years that I’ve been governor - to make sure that we develop a program that ensures no child loses the opportunity to have a pre-kindergarten learning experience because of their parents’ income or their income,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”

The 1,020 new slots will become available this fall., The funding was included in legislation signed by Malloy in May, and is part of a five-year plan to expand the state’s School Readiness Program by 4,010 additional children by 2019. According to the state’s Office of Early Childhood Education, there will be a total of 11,850 spaces with the additional 1,020 slots. By the end of the five years, there will be 14,840 spaces.

The latest 1,020 slots will be divided between economically needy Priority School Districts, such as Hartford, New Britain, Norwich, Bridgeport and Windham, and Competitive School Districts with economically needy schools, such as Shelton, Vernon, Windsor Locks, Killingly, Griswold and Manchester.

While excited to see the governor on Wednesday, the preschoolers at the Meriden center appeared to be more thrilled by the release of the butterflies they have been raising. The insects were released just before Malloy appeared at the podium and sparked squeals of delight as they landed on some of the children during his speech.

At one point, Malloy interrupted himself to tell the children in a light-hearted way to let the butterflies “fly around,” warning, “don’t hurt them, don’t close your hands on them.”

Malloy had some words of advice to planners of such events, saying, “butterflies are released last. It helps on the concentration side.”

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