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A once-empty preschool in south San Jose is now filled with 44 children, spending their days eagerly peering at insects through mega magnifying glasses or linking plastic gears to create contraptions.
Most of the children at Eden Palms Child Development Center in San Jose are from families that are unable to pay for preschool. The students are some of the 10,000-plus children from low-income families throughout California who are benefiting from an influx of state funding for preschools in 2014-15.
California has invested $219 million this school year to increase the number of preschool slots, train teachers, renovate facilities, increase funding to preschool operators and eliminate parent fees for part-day programs (see chart below). About $66 million of the total is dedicated to restoring funding cut during the recession. Full-day, full-year preschool openings, such as those offered at Eden Palms Center, get priority for those funds.
For the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, an additional $35.5 million has been allocated to expand the California State Preschool Program by 4,000 full-day, full-year slots, according to the California Department of Education. Created by lawmakers in 2008, the program includes meals and referrals to health and social services for low-income families.
Advocates for early learning say they are pleased the state is funding more openings for preschool children and putting an emphasis on professional development and enhancing quality. They see high-quality preschools as the most effective way to narrow the achievement and opportunity gaps between children from low-income families and their higher-income peers.
State-funded preschool slots dropped by almost 20,000 between 2010-11 and 2013-14, said Molly Tafoya, communications director for Early Edge California. Those cutbacks “had a huge negative impact on early education opportunities for low-income families,” she said. The new funding for this year and next year means about 149,000 children from low-income families will be getting state help for preschool, about 5,600 fewer than the peak in 2010-11.
In most places, “rent is so exorbitant that we can’t make it break even without state funding,” said Paul Miller, executive director of Kidango, which has more than 50 preschools for low-income families in the San Francisco Bay Area.
But, Tafoya said, “the point remains that we still have a ways to go before all low-income 4-year-olds have access to the program.”
As part of the 2014-15 budget package, the legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown promised to eventually add 31,500 more preschool slots, though they didn’t specify when. The additional 31,500 slots would be enough to cover every 4-year-old from a low-income family in the state, Tafoya said.
Tafoya was disappointed that the governor’s 2015-16 budget proposal
did not provide funding for those additional slots. State leaders “need to make good on their promise,” she said.
H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the California Department of Finance, has said that the state needs to implement all the changes, including improving the quality of preschool, and evaluate them before “we roll out another round of expansions.”
The Eden Palms Center in San Jose is a testament to the impact of state funding. The center first opened in 2000 as part of a low-income housing development. But financial problems during the recession led its operator to shut the doors in 2010. Early education provider Kidango, which received almost $2.9 million of this year’s restoration funds, opened Eden Palms this school year. Kidango, which has more than 50 preschools for low-income families in the San Francisco Bay Area, has used the funds to add new centers and to increase capacity at existing centers, said Executive Director Paul Miller.
In most places, “rent is so exorbitant that we can’t make it break even without state funding,” Miller said. Kidango also relies on grants and other private funding.
Fresno Unified received the most funding in 2014-15 – almost $3.9 million – followed by nonprofit Child Development Inc., which got $3.8 million to support centers throughout California. Los Angeles Unified received more than $2.5 million.
“We’re re-opening centers that closed during the recession and adding on to centers where there is room,” said Regina Anderson, the marketing manager for Child Development Inc.
Los Angeles Unified is using the funds to create new full-day slots at their existing early education centers, which serve more than 10,000 students ages 2 to 4, said Gayle Pollard-Terry, senior deputy director for communications.
Wilma Hashimoto, assistant superintendent of early learning at Fresno Unified, said the district has added 521 new full-day preschool slots for 3- and 4-year-olds.
The district now serves more than 3,000 pre-K students, she said. “We have a preschool at almost every elementary school site.”
Prior to October, Fresno just had part-day subsidized slots from the California Department of Education, Hashimoto said. “The full-day slots benefit families who are going to work or school or who are seeking work.”
Amanda Toscano, a single mother of two who lives in the Eden Housing development in San Jose, wanted to go to work after her daughter turned 2 but could not find daycare.
“For a whole year I stayed home with my daughter,” Toscano said. Soon after the center re-opened, she enrolled her 3-year-old daughter, Sophia Barragan. Toscano is now in training to get her license to sell automobile insurance.
“I’m very, very fortunate to have Kidango watch my daughter,” she said. “She loves it. She is very happy there.”
Since going to the center, Sophia has learned to wait her turn and has better manners at the dinner table, Toscano said. Sophia also can explain why she wants to do something and “hold longer conversations now,” Toscano said.
Marisol Lopez Piñon, a single mother who has four children – including two children who are at the Eden Palms Center – was also able to find work because of the child care provided at the center. She now works at a beauty salon.
“Rent is very high,” she said through a translator. “With the extra income, I can get my children what they need, such as more food and better food.”
And there have been other benefits, she said. Her 3-year-old son, José Castañera, is talking more and is learning to share. José is also becoming more independent.
When she first brought him to the center, José clung to his mother and cried. Now, Lopez Piñon said, he tells her: “I’m going to school to see my Celina,” referring to teacher Celina Torres.
On a recent morning at the Eden Palms Center, José was busy writing a letter (a colorful drawing) to his mother, and with Torres’ help he learned how to apply glue to make an envelope and how to address the envelope. He then put his letter in a classroom mailbox.
For many of the center’s students, Eden Palms is their first exposure to life outside the family.
Araceli Argomaniz, a medical assistant, enrolled her 3-year-old son, Leobardo Sandoval, at the center in October.
Before he was enrolled, “his grandma was watching him,” Sandoval said, “but she only speaks Spanish and he was always by himself. He was stuttering a lot.”
Since coming to the Kidango center, where all the teachers speak English and Spanish, Leobardo “is stuttering less and is speaking English,” Argomaniz said.
“He knows how to play with other kids now,” she said. “He has started talking a lot more.” A co-worker, whose child is also at the center, told her about Eden Palms, which charges fees based on a parent’s income for the full-day program. Many parents pay nothing at all.
“I looked and looked before finding this center,” she said, adding that the other preschools were too expensive. “Now I have the opportunity to have him in a school where he is learning.”