After years of meetings, a new plan to improve and expand early childhood education programs in California was published this week.

The 48-page California Comprehensive Early Learning Plan is the result of a committee first convened by the state before the budget crisis and continued with federal funding from the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant, received in 2011. The terms of the $75 million grant required that such plan be published.

The plan, which calls itself “aspirational” in the executive summary, paints a picture of a statewide early education system that begins supporting mothers before they give birth and provides affordable care and education for young children until they enter kindergarten. Priority for services is meant to go to low-income children and families, the argument being that state dollars should be invested first where the need is greatest.

Several pages of the report are dedicated to justifying the importance of having a plan to improve California’s early learning system, primarily by citing dreary statistics like these:

  • 13 percent of the young children in the United States live in California.
  • 1.2 million California children live in families with a family income of less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. (Source: 2010 Census)
  • Subsidized programs served only 33 percent of the eligible 3-year-olds and 57 percent of eligible 4-year-olds in 2010. (American Institutes for Research study)
  • Only 12.8 percent of infants and toddlers were in any licensed setting. (Policy brief by AIR and WestEd)
  • Only 6 percent of children under 3 who are income-eligible for State programs were served in publicly supported settings. (AIR study)
  • Only 13 percent of preschool children from low-income families are enrolled in early learning programs of sufficient quality to promote the kind of thinking skills associated with school readiness. (Rand study, 2009)

 

Though the appendix includes some practical measures for things the state can do to actually change these statistics – primarily: secure more funding – the focus is mainly on highlighting what a comprehensive state early learning program might look like.


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