Majority of California voters support universal preschool for 4-year-olds

Credit: Lillian Mongeau/EdSource

A preschool student plays with color in her Palo Alto classroom.

Most California voters think the state should increase the availability of preschool for the state’s 4-year-olds, according to a Field Poll conducted in partnership with EdSource.

Of the 1,000 registered voters polled, 55 percent said increasing the availability of preschool to 4-year-olds in California was “very important,” while 24 percent said it was “somewhat important.” Among parents of children 5 or younger, 70 percent said increasing the availability of preschool was “very important” and 20 percent said it was “somewhat important.”

Providing more publicly funded preschool opportunities has become a major issue in California. State legislators recently introduced a bill, SB 837, that would provide all 4-year-olds in the state with the option of attending transitional kindergarten, which is provided to children who don’t qualify for kindergarten because they turn 5 in the first three months of the school year.

It has also become a national issue since President Barack Obama named it a top priority in his 2013 State of the Union Address and repeated the call for expanding state preschool programs in this year’s address.

“I’m not surprised that 79 percent of Californians believe that providing early childhood education in preschool is (‘very’ or ‘somewhat’) important,” said Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, who is the lead author of SB 837, which is currently before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“Californians intuitively understand that the more we do for people up front, the more successful (the state is) going to be long term,” Steinberg said.

Complete list of poll questions.

Despite their support for expanding the program, only one in four voters polled said they had heard of transitional kindergarten, which began in the 2012-13 school year. When it was explained, 60 percent said they supported it, and 25 percent said they opposed it. Fifty-seven percent said expanding transitional kindergarten to all 4-year-olds would be “worth the investment” of $1.4 billion annually once the program was completely rolled out. Thirty-four percent said it was “not worth the investment.”

California registered voters also strongly supported restoring the $1 billion cut from child care and state-funded preschool during the budget battles over the last several years. So far, $55 million has been restored since the end of the recession. Sixty-four percent of those polled said they were in favor of restoring the funds, while 28 percent said they were opposed to doing so.

A major issue in the debate about how to expand public preschool programs in California and nationally is whether preschool should be offered to all children or only to those from low-income families. A majority of those polled, 51 percent, said they preferred an expansion of free preschool programs that would serve all children rather than a targeted program for low-income children. Thirty-eight percent said free preschool should be expanded only for low-income children. Currently fewer than half of low-income children in California have access to publicly funded preschool programs.

Deborah Kong, president of Early Edge California, a major backer of the Steinberg bill, said she was gratified to see support for universal preschool, which would be available to students regardless of family income. Providing schooling to some students and not others is not the way the state provides public education, Kong said.

“(The bill) doesn’t say that if you come from a particular zip code that you get public school,” she said.

The poll also asked voters how they felt about what the state is doing to provide preschool opportunities. Fifty-six percent said the state “should be doing more,” 25 percent said it was “doing about the right amount,” and 12 percent said it was “already doing too much.”

Adonai Mack, legislative advocate for the Association of California School Administrators, testified against the Steinberg bill at a hearing last week. He said the strong support for public preschool didn’t surprise him. There was support for the idea among his members as well, but many of the principals and superintendents he represents are concerned about costs, he said. Credentialing new teachers and adding classroom facilities to expand transitional kindergarten were not included in the current cost estimate for the program, Mack said. His members have reviewed the list of requirements for the new program and Mack said many worried the extra funds provided by the state to run the program would be insufficient.

“Some of the mandatory requirements are going to cost money,” Mack said.

For example, the requirement to have two paid staff in transitional kindergarten classrooms will be costly and could exceed the allocated funding, he said. It’s unclear what impact the support for public preschool shown in the EdSource-Field Poll will have on the outcome of the legislative battle in Sacramento.

“It helps, certainly,” Steinberg said. “We represent the people and their voices and opinions matter.”

This poll was conducted by the Field Research Corporation in partnership with EdSource and underwritten by the Heising-Simons Foundation. Read the complete poll results here. Lillian Mongeau covers early childhood education. Contact her or follow her @lrmongeau. Subscribe to EdSource’s early learning newsletter, Eyes on the Early Years.

Filed under: 42, Data, Early Learning, Policy & Finance, Preschool, Publications, State Education Policy, Transitional Kindergarten


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12 Responses to “Majority of California voters support universal preschool for 4-year-olds”

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  1. Arturo De la Mora on Aug 13, 2014 at 4:07 am08/13/2014 4:07 am

    • -11-100

    The best way to avoid poverty is to wait until marriage to have kids, stay in school and avoid crime. The public school system has failed to instill those values completely, more pre-school won’t change that. It begins and ends with the parents.

  2. Jennifer Bestor on Apr 20, 2014 at 3:57 pm04/20/2014 3:57 pm

    • 000

    Will the Legislature fund this — or simply cannibalize other education funding to pay for it?

    My sense is that the Legislature would love to extend deferrals (i.e., forced lending to the state by school districts), which the Governor’s January Budget said would be paid off in 2014-15. As long as the Legislature can keep some deferrals on the books — even a ‘nominal’ $1-2 billion — they’ll be able to ratchet them up again next downturn.

    And, as long as the state is burying $7 billion of its own debts in ‘education spending,’ the Legislature will feel themselves justified in cannibalizing rather than growing the school funding pie. This is how we end up at the bottom of the national heap when it comes to the $ that actually get to the classroom.


  3. Floyd Thursby on Apr 19, 2014 at 3:44 pm04/19/2014 3:44 pm

    • 000

    It would be better to have vouchers to pay for existing programs so poor and rich kids go to school together, unlike our public schools where the rich for the most part evade Brown v. Topeka via private school. In segregated areas public schools are popular but in areas where public means going to school with black and brown, most rich avoid it. Los Gatos, Palo Alto, public is great, San Francisco, Oakland, not so much, even though stats show no test score advantage to going to private after adjusting for income, it’s more about class segregation than educational quality.

    This is a great opportunity, but we have to make sure kids are tested whether they have memorized the 3300-500 sight words via flash cards, are reading and doing basic math. 60% of Asian kids go to kindergarten reading by the teaching of their parents or hired tutors or solid pre-school, vsl only 16% of white kids, and Asians are 3.5 times more likely to qualify for a UC or better thanwhites (33.5% vs. 8.7%). If we have these schools teach every child the sight words and reading rules and math, it will be good. If it becomes unionized where testing and results are irrelevant as hiring/firing/promotionare based on seniority and tenure, you’l get the same inequality you get in public schools. We have to monitor it and make sure this money is taking the poor kids and making them as prepared on average starting Kindergartenas the average Asian American kid in California is now. Then they wil like reading and be ahead of their parents and have a better life. We have to be extremely careful with this as we just have one shot, if we let it become a weak tenured babysitting service, we’ll have lost a great opportunity to cause income equality and equality of opportunity and class mobility.


    • Lillian Mongeau on Apr 21, 2014 at 12:30 pm04/21/2014 12:30 pm

      • 000


      Please cite your sources for these numbers. I have not been able to find these numbers.


      • Floyd Thursby on Apr 22, 2014 at 2:34 pm04/22/2014 2:34 pm

        • 000

        Parents shouldn’t start training children too young — the seedling has to sprout — but early habits will dominate, goes the common conviction. That’s why 60 percent of Asian-American parents in one study by Michigan State University education professor Barbara Schneider taught their preschoolers basic reading, writing and math, hoping also to imbue them with perseverance, concentration and focus.

        In contrast, 16 percent of whites surveyed taught their preschoolers those basic skills. Many explained that they didn’t want to push academics on their preschoolers because they worried about “baby burnout” — squelching their toddlers’ motivation with too-early teaching.

        The whole article is good, it shows the source of why Asian Americans, as well as in some other countries such as England, France and Australia, have superior results as parents consistently in terms of grades and success. It all starts very early, if you wait for age 6, you won’t be at the top unless you hit the genetic lottery.

        • Floyd Thursby on Apr 22, 2014 at 2:37 pm04/22/2014 2:37 pm

          • 000

          Lilian, I wasn’t able to find all of it but found the 16% of total and 60% of Asian American parents go to the trouble to prepare their children for kindergarten. The article also discusses the over-representation in the UCs but not the exact stats I quoted before but I’ll try to find those as well. 14% of the state and 40% of the UC System is nearly triple, but I think the figure is actually well over triple due to the fact that if you add up all the races at the UC, that doesn’t include out of state or foreign admissions, which amounts to a lot and some of which are also Asian.

          • Lillian Mongeau on Apr 22, 2014 at 2:46 pm04/22/2014 2:46 pm

            • 000

            Thanks for adding citations, Floyd. It’s really preferable on a site like our where the average readership is incredibly knowledgeable about education to back up any numbers with a citation. Otherwise things can unravel into “he said, she said,” pretty fast.

  4. Patricia Medina on Apr 18, 2014 at 4:37 pm04/18/2014 4:37 pm

    • 000

    I believe head start or preschool should be made available for all families disregarding their income. I have a 4 year old and am having trouble finding a program in which to place her. Every place I have called tells me my income is too high. We are literally living paycheck to paycheck, but according to their requirements, we make too much money. My daughter wants to go to school but no one will take her. I would have to pay for a program that runs about $600 for 10 weeks that I can’t afford.


    • Floyd Thursy on Apr 25, 2014 at 3:39 pm04/25/2014 3:39 pm

      • 000

      I think the main problem is mainstream America culture and psychology says little kids are cute and should have fun and enjoy their childhood, that any benefit from extra knowledge will be wiped out by extra stress. It’s like Thomas Kuhn, it takes a lot to get people to change their paradigm even in the face of hard evidence which is indisputable.

      Clearly the Triple Package cultures overachieve what American kids do and do so by more effort, both harder work by parents as parents and harder work by their children. Asians are the most noticeable but by far not the only one.

      You can see the machinations of a dying paradigm for child raising at work when you hear the constant references to Asians as less creative (artistic statistics show over-representation now in the arts), abusive towards their kids (false statistically, less abuse than any other race), or predictions they will get stressed and are doing well at X level, but later will collapse. All stats show they do better young, middle school, high school, college, post graduate and even live longer and are happier as adults, and more successful, and while some individuals may crash, hard working Asians are no more likely to do so than any other group and maintain their advantage throughout a lifetime.

      We make a huge mistake not teaching our kids to read as early as possible. We must teach kids ideally learning is fun, but you have to get good grades to live up to your family name, honor your parents, and have a good life, even if it’s not fun you have to do it to be a good person, life is about some fun and some hard work you don’t wish to do, even at a very young age.

      SIf you don’t teach a child by 3, you have another 3 years. A 6 year old who is behind will in 19 cases out of 20 stay there. You don’t get a second chance later. Kids who aren’t reading by 9 are almost sure to remain behind. Early education is a huge source of Asian advatage, as well as Summer Studying/reading.

      • John H on Apr 25, 2014 at 6:07 pm04/25/2014 6:07 pm

        • 000

        I’m not sure I’d totally go along with your thought about American culture, Floyd – it’s about local choices, and about California skimping on something others already provide and hopefully thus heeding the call to catch up. Oklahoma has had universal preschool for years (and, per Tuesday’s NPR story, the best enrollment percentage in the nation). We don’t say this too often, but on this issue California simply needs what Oklahoma already has. But again to underline the choice concept, to our immense credit we already have AB490, AB167/216 and AB12, which no other state in the nation has touched. Problem is, we need both, and we require both, and we need Sacramento to figure out the budgeting in a way that doesn’t sacrifice some other aspect of core funding to pay for it.

        • Floyd Thursby on Apr 25, 2014 at 9:39 pm04/25/2014 9:39 pm

          • 000

          I agree, we need another funding source and should have more of a gas tax, VAT tax, income tax, maybe full tax on the hedge funds, etc. to pay for it, not cut other programs. Oklahoma is ahead of us.

          My point is that if we don’t use flash cards and have tests and not let it be unionized, it will end up mediocre. Right now we’re thinking we can reduce the achievement gap and increase performance with it, but historically there are reforms we say this about and ten years later, twenty, we see the same basic thing. We heard this about all day Kindergarten about 9 years ago, my 10th grader was in half day kindergarten, and it hasn’t made a noticeable difference anyone talks about.

          Asian kids will still be ahead if their parents use flashcards and guarantee reading and others don’t.

          We need to have these pre-schools do what parents won’t, make sure they are goal-focused, not play-focused. I don’t want it to be all serious, just maybe 2 hours out of 6 on flash cards, reading, 1-on-1, math,e tc.

          But these schools should also tell all parents about the proven benefits of Asian parenting and encourage all parents to make sure no child starts Kindergarten without memorizing the frequency words and reading at a basic level and counting to 100 and having basic math.

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