Merely a week after proposing that transitional kindergarten become a program for all 4-year-olds from low-income families, state Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg plans to drop that language in deference to a budget deal that would send more money to the existing state preschool program.
Eligibility requirements* for the current transitional kindergarten program, a year of free pre-kindergarten education for children with birthdays in the first three months of the school year, will not change under the plan Steinberg, D-Sacramento, announced today. Steinberg began 2014 with a proposal to make transitional kindergarten available for all 4-year-olds. Last week he amended that proposal to make it available only to children from low-income families and then said today that there would be no change to who is eligible for the program.
Steinberg said his office had received “push-back” against the idea that program eligibility be based on
income level, “because it’s a popular program.” Instead, Democratic leaders struck a deal that includes $155 million more for the existing California State Preschool program, which is for for 4-year-olds from families making less than 70 percent of the median state income, or $47,181 for a family of four.
“In an odd way, we’re farther ahead than where I thought we might be,” Steinberg said.
Though the current proposal would not provide a preschool slot for every 4-year-old in the state, Steinberg said he was pleased that it would increase the number of available slots by 11,500 in 2014-15 and by a total of 43,000 over several years.
Though not related to today’s deal, transitional kindergarten will also grow next year in accordance with its original 2010 design. Starting in the fall of 2014 all of the students who will become eligible for the program based on their fall birthdays will be able to enroll. The program has been phased in over three school years, starting in the fall of 2012.
Between the two increases, California will have more 4-year-olds enrolled in publicly funded education programs than it has since the cuts to early childhood programs during the recession.
“I’m very pleased,” Steinberg said. “The toehold is there to leap even farther” toward universal preschool, he said.
*This story has been updated to clarify that it’s the eligibility requirements for transitional kindergarten that won’t change.