Low-income children in 46 towns and cities throughout the state \u2014 including in Shelton \u2014 will have additional opportunities for preschool. Governor Dannel P. Malloy, joined by Commissioner of the Office of Early Childhood, Dr. Myra Jones-Taylor, and local officials, this morning announced the allocation of 1,020 additional School Readiness opportunities for low-income children. \u201cInvesting in high-quality education is the single most important investment we can make in our state and our economy. That has driven my efforts from day one as Mayor of Stamford and Governor of Connecticut,\u201d said Malloy.\u00a0 \u201cWith this expansion, we are taking immediate steps to provide 1,020 additional children in low-income families with a strong start and foundation for lifelong success.\u201d To be eligible for School Readiness funding, programs must be accredited or pursuing accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) or be a Federal Head Start approved program. The additional 1,020 opportunities will become available at the beginning of the upcoming school year. The expansion was included in Public Act 14-39 which was signed by Malloy in May. The School Readiness Program is a state-funded program which provides high-quality preschool to low-income 3- and 4-year olds in Priority and Competitive School Districts in Connecticut. Priority School districts include the eight towns in the state with the largest population, the top 11 towns with the highest number of children under the temporary family assistance program, and the top 11 towns with the highest ratio of children under the temporary family assistance program. A Competitive School District is a town that has a priority school (a school in which 40% or more of the lunches served go to students who are eligible for free or reduced price lunch) or any town ranked in the bottom 50 towns in the state in town wealth. \u201cWe know that low-income children who have not had access to high-quality preschool face greater challenges in comparison to their wealthier peers who have had high-quality preschool experiences,\u201d said Jones-Taylor. \u201cThis expansion will give 1,020 more 3- and 4-year-olds a chance to grow and learn in an enriched learning environment with qualified teachers, providing them with the experience they need to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. It is high-quality early care and education programs, like the School Readiness Program, that bring us closer to closing the achievement gap.\u201d The expansion is part of a five-year plan to expand the School Readiness Program to serve a total of 4,010 additional children by 2019. The plan will provide high quality pre-kindergarten for approximately 1,000 additional children for each of the first three years and 500 children during each of the last two years of the plan. Based on existing data, including the number of children currently enrolled in the Free and Reduced Price Lunch program in low-income districts, the percentage of children estimated who do not attend a child care program, and the number of children already accessing state-funded programs within low-income districts, it was determined that there was a need of 4,010 3- and 4-year-old low-income children who did not have access to pre-k. Priority School Districts Priority School districts include the eight towns in the state with the largest population, the top 11 towns with the highest number of children under the temporary family assistance program, and the top eleven towns with the highest ratio of children under the temporary family assistance program. Competitive School Districts Competitive School Districts are towns that have a priority school (a school in which 40% or more of the lunches served are served to students who are eligible for free or reduced price lunch) or any town ranked in the bottom 50 towns in the state in town wealth. In addition, Public Act 14-41 established the Connecticut Smart Start Program which is intended to expand preschool opportunities for low-income children in public schools. Connecticut Smart Start will provide grants in FY15 for the renovation of existing public school classrooms to accommodate public preschool programs. Up to $100 million for renovations will be available over a 10-year period, with a maximum of $10 million per year. Funding for public preschool classrooms will begin in FY16 with $100 million in operating funding available over a 10-year period (maximum $10 million per year) from the Tobacco Settlement Fund. For more information visit www.ct.gov\/oec\/upk.