While voicing her discontent with last week’s decision not to award a major federal helicopter contract to Connecticut’s Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., Gov. M. Jodi Rell presented an education plan to foster economic development at a “job summit” this week.

Connecticut’s job market has recently been described by some analysts as stagnant, with several studies predicting below-average growth relative to the rest of the nation. Rell identified Connecticut’s aging work force as one of the state’s leading economic challenges and suggested the problem could be alleviated by focusing on education.

In particular, the governor outlined proposals for a summit on math and science education, investment in early childhood programs and a state loan forgiveness program for teachers committed to working in urban centers.

Though there is some good news for the state’s economy — recently-released labor statistics show the jobless rate fell to 4.3 percent in December, the lowest rate in over two years — the governor spoke out in irritation over job losses and decisions by the federal government that have hurt the state, including the lack of federal support for Connecticut’s low-income heating assistance program.

Rell also criticized the Pentagon’s decision to award the presidential helicopter fleet contract to Lockheed Martin rather than Sikorsky, which has held the contract since 1957. The decision was perceived by a number of state political leaders as a significant blow, though Sikorsky officials said they did not anticipate layoffs would follow.

“We’ve taken it in the chin a time or two too many lately,” Rell said in a press release. “Now is the time for us to focus on keeping all of the good jobs we have and bringing new ones to our state.”

Rell said focusing on Connecticut’s youth would be key to future economic progress.

“We may not have enough skilled people to replace the workers who will be retiring, especially in some importantoccupations,” Rell said in the press release. “Some youngsters who might excel in those areas may not get the chance because our urban schools are failing them and the ‘achievement gap’ is widening.”

While he awaits the specifics of the governor’s proposal, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. supports the spirit of the governor’s efforts to prioritize education, said Derek Slap, New Haven’s director of public information.

Slap said DeStefano views early childhood education as a priority for New Haven, having introduced an early childhood care initiative in 1997.

“The mayor obviously wants to read the governor’s budget before commenting specifically on certain programs or funding decisions,” Slap said. “That said, Gov. Rell’s goal to make universal preschool a priority for Connecticut’s cities falls on attentive ears in New Haven, and he applauds her efforts.”

Teri Lawrence, an early childhood consultant for the state Department of Education, said Rell’s focus on early childhood education parallels a nationwide trend of recognizing the benefits of preschool programs.

Lawrence said it is important to focus on providing quality programs with adequate facilities, credentialed instructors and an appropriate curriculum.

“It’s not just as simple as, ‘Well, we want to provide the money so that it’s universal access,'” she said. “Just being in a program is not enough. One needs to be in a high quality program.”

Adam Liegeot ’94, a spokesman for the governor, said Rell will include each of the proposals made at the summit in the budget that she will present to the legislature next week.

“The governor’s budget will emphasize issues families care deeply about,” Liegeot said in an e-mail. “Her budget will contain a number of bold steps to enhance Connecticut’s

economic competitiveness.”