California is poised to take a big step toward universal preschool, with the budget bill signed into law July 1.
One of the most novel aspects of the budget agreement is that all 4-year-olds living in neighborhoods where most children attending the local school are low-income would be eligible for state-subsidized preschool, regardless of their own family’s incomes.
That’s a small but significant step toward offering universal preschool to all children, not just to low-income children, something Gov. Gavin Newsom has said is a long-term goal.
Priority will be given to low-income children and enrollment will depend on available slots. The budget includes 10,000 new full-day preschool slots — not enough to serve all low-income 4-year-olds, much less all 4-year-olds who live in low-income neighborhoods. Still, including all 4-year-olds in those neighborhoods will make preschool accessible to more children whose parents might not otherwise be able to afford it, said Stanford University professor Deborah Stipek. Many state-subsidized preschools are run by school districts; Stipek said it will help elementary schools if more kindergartners have attended the preschools associated with them.
“It allows the elementary school to create stronger linkages between the preschool and the elementary school,” Stipek said. “You can make an effort to align the preschool curriculum and socialization procedures with the kindergarten approaches, so the children have a more continuous experience, but in some respects, it doesn’t help if the children who are coming to TK or kindergarten may not have had any preschool experience or have been in preschools that are not connected to the elementary school.”
The proposal to expand eligibility is based on AB 123, introduced by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, who also served on the budget conference committee that negotiated the budget agreement. He said the eligibility expansion aims to reach families that make just a bit more than what would have previously qualified them for state-subsidized preschool.
“Say a family in Sacramento makes $75,000. They’re too rich to be eligible for subsidized preschool, but they’re way too poor to pay a UC Berkeley type tuition for full-pay preschool,” McCarty said. “The middle-class working families are getting squeezed out.”
The budget will also offer subsidized child care to 11,250 more low-income children as young as newborns. Much of the funding for the new child care slots would come from marijuana tax revenue.
The Assembly and the Senate had originally proposed to add about 23,000 subsidized child care slots and vouchers and increase reimbursement rates for providers who care for low-income children, neither of which had been included in Newsom’s budget. Those proposals were not included in the budget bill, but Assemblyman McCarty said he believes the budget is “overall a tremendous advancement in expanding access to early ed programs.”
Several advocates agreed.
“I think that the Legislature’s negotiated budget package is really good news for families in California and specifically for low-income children,” said Kristin Schumacher, senior policy analyst at the California Budget and Policy Center, a nonpartisan organization that analyzes how budget and tax policies affect low- and middle-income Californians. “The more families we can help with subsidized child care, the more families will have a leg up in boosting their economic security.”
The early education budget largely echoes Gov. Newsom’s unprecedented proposals to invest about $1.8 billion in early learning — expanding preschool to more low-income 4-year-olds, building more child care facilities, helping early childhood educators get more training, providing more home nurse visits for low-income infants and toddlers and a full year of subsidized child care for low-income families who are just beginning to receive cash aid through CalWORKS.
Lawmakers cut back significantly on what Newsom had proposed for building more classrooms to offer “full-day kindergarten.” Full-day kindergarten programs last the same amount of time as 1st grade, usually about six hours. Part-day programs generally last about three hours. Newsom originally proposed $750 million for school districts to build or renovate classrooms to be able to provide full-day kindergarten. He later reduced the amount to $600 million. The Assembly and Senate proposed $200 million and $150 million, respectively. The budget bill now includes $300 million. The funding can be used to build or renovate classrooms for either full-day kindergarten or full-day transitional kindergarten, for 4-year-olds who will turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2.
“There’s a need, but it was probably over-budgeted,” said Assemblyman McCarty, referring to full-day kindergarten funding. “We adjusted it accordingly, frankly to focus on what the real need would be.”
As EdSource reported, UC Berkeley researchers and the Legislative Analyst’s Office had questioned whether the state should make full-day kindergarten a budget priority. According to a UC Berkeley analysis, many schools in low-income communities already offer full-day programs, while most schools that only offer part-day kindergarten are in higher-income areas. In addition, most districts that have applied for similar funding in the past already offer full-day kindergarten and most likely would use the funds for renovations, not for converting from part-day to full-day programs.
In addition, lawmakers reduced the funds Newsom proposed for what he is calling a Master Plan for Early Learning and Care, from $10 million to $5 million. The master plan would be a guide for improving the quality of and access to child care and, eventually, how to provide state-subsidized preschool to all 4-year-olds, beginning with low-income children.
The conference committee also added $10 million for emergency child care for foster children and about $20 million for collecting data and organizing a statewide data system.
“I’m super excited to see funding for a more comprehensive data system,” Schumacher said. “I know that sometimes it can be challenging to understand where dollars are going and who is benefiting from the programs. More importantly, we can use the data system to make sure that we’re not leaving communities behind.”
Newsom signed the main budget on June 27 and the education trailer bill on July 1.