Advocates for expanding preschool to low-income 4-year-olds were disappointed with the 4,000 additional enrollment slots proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown in his 2015-16 budget released Friday. 

The new slots are for the 2015-16 school year, but Brown had already agreed in the last legislative session to provide those slots, said Ted Lempert, president of the advocacy group Children Now. During that same session, an agreement was reached to eventually provide preschool slots for all the state’s low-income children. Another 31,500 slots at a cost of about $300 million would be needed. But the agreement was not specific on how many years it would take to reach that goal.

H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the Department of Finance, said the agreement addressed not only the number of slots, but also reimbursement rates for preschool providers, incentives to providers to improve the quality of preschool, and funding for a full day of care in addition to three hours of preschool, removing one of the barriers to working families enrolling their children in the program.

“Our view is that we would like to implement all of these changes and evaluate them before we roll out another round of expansions,” Palmer said.

Lempert said funding to address the quality of preschool and fair reimbursement rates for providers will take the state “years to get where we want to be.” Meanwhile, he said, “the kids can’t wait. We need to expand access this year, especially when the revenues are strong.”

If Brown had suggested any less than 4,000 slots, it would have been a cut, Lempert said. “I am very displeased. By not funding additional preschool slots, the governor is not following through on the commitment that was made.”

Deborah Kong, president of Early Edge California, an Oakland-based nonprofit advocacy group, said she can understand competing budget priorities. “But given how foundational the first five years of life are, this is one of the wisest investments in the future that we can make, and we’re almost there.” she said.

Kong and Lempert were hoping the budget would fund at least 10,000 additional slots in 2015-16.

State Sen. Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, has introduced Assembly Bill 47, which calls for expansion of state preschool to all eligible low-income children who do not already have access to one year of state preschool or transitional kindergarten. Transitional kindergarten is an extra year of kindergarten available to children who turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2. In a press release issued after the governor unveiled his proposal, McCarty said he plans to work with the governor regarding access to preschool.

Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, is also a proponent of early education. In a statement, he said he too had “hoped to see an increase in the total number of slots and other resources for early childhood education.” He said he planned to work with the Legislature and governor to “ensure that the May revision [of the budget] contains greater resources for early childhood education and development efforts.”

Public sentiment appears to echo advocates’ message about the importance of preschool. Last year, a Field poll conducted in partnership with EdSource found that the vast majority of California registered voters surveyed considered a high-quality preschool either “very important” (61 percent) or “somewhat important” (22 percent).

 

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