California’s state funded preschool program enrolled about 15,000 fewer children in 2012-13 than it had the year before, according to the State Preschool Yearbook by the National Institute for Early Education Research.
Steven Barnett, the institute’s director, said California was one of several large states, including Texas and Florida, to meet few of the quality standards for public preschool programs. California meets 4 out of 10 of the standards established by the institute for high quality programs for 3- and 4-year-olds.
Barnett also called California one of the country’s “biggest losers” because of its declining enrollment and resulting decline in spending on early childhood programs. California actually spent $340 more per child in 2012-13 than it had in the previous year, but with so many fewer children enrolled, overall spending went down.
California ranks 27th out of 41 states (including the District of Columbia) in providing preschool access to 4-year-olds and 7th in providing access to 3-year-olds. (Ten states do not offer public preschool.) California spent $4,541 per child enrolled in state preschool in 2012-13, according to the report. That’s more than other big states like Texas and Florida and even Massachusetts, which ranks high in public education spending. Still, it doesn’t come close to the $12,070 New Jersey is spending, nor is it even half as much as the $9,810 Connecticut is spending.
All those rankings would change dramatically if California went forward with state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s proposal to make transitional kindergarten a mandatory public school offering for all children who have turned 4 years old by Sept. 1 of a given year, Barnett said.
“If transitional kindergarten became a program for all 4-year-olds, it would shoot California to the top,” Barnett said. “It would probably rival Washington D.C. (for the top spot). It wouldn’t just expand enrollment, but the funding levels and quality standards would be substantially higher than the (current) state preschool program.”
The bill to expand transitional kindergarten, SB 837, passed the Senate Education Committee last month and is set to be heard by the Senate Appropriations Committee on May 19.
A full copy of the State Preschool Yearbook can be seen at www.NIEER.org.