Credit: Zaidee Stavely/EdSource

Gov. Gavin Newsom is making strides toward realizing his vision of preschool for all the state’s 4-year-olds in the proposed budget he released Friday for the coming fiscal year. 

Newsom hopes to increase access to transitional kindergarten, or TK, programs by giving $250 million to school districts as an incentive to expand these programs, as well as $50 million for teacher preparation and $200 million to build out the necessary facilities for TK and other early education programs. 

Funded by the state, transitional kindergarten is an extra year of kindergarten that principally serves children who turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2. In some districts, children who turn 5 even later in the school year have been able to attend what is called “expanded transitional kindergarten.” But school districts have to cover the costs themselves until a child turns 5. The funding Newsom is proposing is intended to cover the up-front costs of expanding these programs.

He also plans to increase subsidized child care by putting $44 million toward providing 4,500 more child care vouchers for low-income families and $55 million in additional support for child care providers and families struggling in the wake of the pandemic. 

While more modest than the early childhood ambitions of the pre-pandemic era, these programs are in line with the recently released Master Plan for Early Learning and Care, which the governor commissioned. That ambitious set of recommendations suggests it would involve a staggering investment, from $2-$12 billion, to truly transform the state’s early childhood system. A TK expansion is one move toward the development of universal preschool. 

“It’s a big number to achieve the ultimate goal of providing quality care for all 4-year-olds and all income eligible 3-year-olds to have the appropriate ratios, to have the appropriate reimbursements, to do all of that is going to take years, being honest with folks, not naive about the challenge,” he said in press conference. “We want to commit to a down payment on that plan.” 

Many early childhood advocates said they were relieved that young children remained a focus in the budget, despite the economic chaos wrought by the pandemic. 

“We can breathe a sigh of relief that investments in child care are part of his proposal, considering the essential role it’s played before, during, and will after the pandemic,” said Mary Ignatius, statewide organizer of Parent Voices, a parent advocacy group. “We look forward to working with the governor and legislature to ensure every dollar is going to alleviate the harm of historic underfunding and disproportionate pain caused by COVID, felt mostly by low-paid early educators and mothers of color.” 

While some advocates are disappointed to see Newsom’s mission to fully transform early education in the state take a backseat to other priorities, others felt that it was a predictable reality given the myriad crises triggered by the pandemic. 

“It’s not a surprise given COVID,” said Deborah Stipek, an early education expert at Stanford. “The additional funding for TK is, I hope, a foot in the door to eventually make TK available and funded for all 4-year-olds. We can hope to see more of a focus on early learning” in May, when the governor presents revisions to this budget. 

Many champions of early child care were also pleased to see a commitment to the needs of low-income families, who may have less access to a wide array of educational opportunities. 

“The governor is getting back on track to widen family access to quality child care, specifically the expansion of TK,” said Bruce Fuller, professor of education and public policy at UC Berkeley. “Early childhood fades a bit into the background but the governor is trying to renew his efforts. I’d say that the governor is determined to backstop low-income families as the pandemic persists, which will guard against the diminished home environments for young children.” 

The extended access to transitional kindergarten, a bridge between preschool and kindergarten, the first major push toward the goals outlined in the 10-year Master Plan, was cheered by early education experts.

“The Governor’s budget makes a critical first step toward expanding TK to all four-year-olds,” said Scott Moore, CEO of Kidango, a non-profit organization that runs many Bay Area child care centers. “Research shows that the earlier we provide quality preschool and child care for our most vulnerable children, the more we close the opportunity gap, and the more successful they are in school and life.”

Transitional kindergarten was launched nearly seven years ago when the state began to require children to turn 5 on or before Sep. 1 to enroll in kindergarten. Previously, children could attend kindergarten if they turned 5 before Dec. 2. TK was created to serve children with fall birthdays who would have previously been eligible for kindergarten, but that leaves out about three-quarters of the state’s 4-year-olds, which creates an inequity for many. Now, more children would be eligible beyond that narrow window, although the details on how to roll out the expansion would be left to local discretion. 

“Given what we know about brain development and neuroscience, supporting young children is an essential step to getting them ready for school and life,” said Margaret Bridges, an expert in child development and psychology at UC Berkeley. “The need is great, and early childhood education is absolutely vital to the health and well-being of so many young children and their families.” 

To be sure, some districts, such as Alum Rock Union Elementary School District and Orange Unified School District, already offer expanded transitional kindergarten which allows children who will turn 5 after Dec. 2 to enroll. The state does not allow districts to receive “average daily attendance” funding for these children until they turn 5. So districts have had to fund the programs in different ways, and they have different cutoff dates for when a child must turn 5. 

The new budget proposal would unify the way school districts implement transitional kindergarten. Significantly, it would also help pay for facility upgrades and construction, as well as increased teacher training on early childhood development, as experts say the needs of 4-year-olds differ greatly from those of older students.

Another $44 million is earmarked for the addition of 4,500 more child care vouchers for low-income families, which is significant because finding a subsidized child care spot has long been no mean feat. The number of family child care homes has long been on the decline, decreasing by a third between 2008 and 2019, according to the California Child Care Resource & Referral Network. That means there weren’t enough spots to go around, even before Covid. 

“There’s never enough money to serve the people who are eligible for care. We are not serving them,” said Renee Herzfeld, executive director of the Community Child Care Coordinating Council of Alameda County. “We need to figure out how to help families and children who need help without getting scared off by the price tag. We’re trying to find ways to build a system around insufficient funds. We need to build the funds around what the system needs.” 

To make matters worse, as the pandemic raged, almost 7,000 family child care homes shut their doors between March and December, 2,443 permanently, according to the California Department of Social Services.

In response to the child care crisis, when Gov. Newsom and the Legislature approved the 2020-21 budget, they included money for child care programs that were dependent on receiving federal funding. This aid includes about $150 million for additional subsidized child care for about 15,000 more children and $150 million toward helping child care providers reopen and support low-income families and essential workers. 

The proposed budget clarifies that this assistance will be funded through the $1 billion the California child care industry will be getting from the COVID-19 stimulus package. It also puts $55 million toward additional help for child care providers and families impacted by the pandemic. It remains unclear what the range of that assistance will be. 

“Child care is one of the biggest expenses in a family budget — especially in California where child care is more expensive than many other states. This leaves families in a catch-22 — they need to work to pay the bills, but they can’t afford the child care to go to work,” said Kristin Schumacher, senior policy analyst for the California Budget and Policy Center, a nonprofit research organization. “Subsidized child care can help families bridge the gap, providing safe and affordable care for families while parents are at work.”

 EdSource reporter Zaidee Stavely contributed to this report.

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  1. Alexandra Dutton 4 months ago4 months ago

    I am concerned that public schools, which are bigger and operate at a higher capacity, will not serve the youngest age groups as well as the currently existing model of preschools and home day cares that exist. Children need small, nurturing class sizes to build them up and get them ready for the larger environment of public schools. It is both best for their safety as well as their development. We know that public schools often … Read More

    I am concerned that public schools, which are bigger and operate at a higher capacity, will not serve the youngest age groups as well as the currently existing model of preschools and home day cares that exist.

    Children need small, nurturing class sizes to build them up and get them ready for the larger environment of public schools. It is both best for their safety as well as their development. We know that public schools often mean bigger class sizes and shorter school hours – how does that serve working families who still need care through the summer time?

    There are no summer camps for 3 and 4 year olds. While the idea sounds great, I think we need to consider how to fold in existing preschools and not try to create infrastructure in public schools that are already stretched.

  2. Prima L Offril 4 months ago4 months ago

    The sentiment is all well and good but as stated my many, there is no need to build a new system and pump billions of dollars into it when there is a whole community of pre-schools up and down the state that have trained professionals (with a history of being underpaid, if I might add) who have the training and the experience and could definitely use some support from the government to enable them to … Read More

    The sentiment is all well and good but as stated my many, there is no need to build a new system and pump billions of dollars into it when there is a whole community of pre-schools up and down the state that have trained professionals (with a history of being underpaid, if I might add) who have the training and the experience and could definitely use some support from the government to enable them to keep on doing what they are doing and to do it better.

    Expanding the TK program with no regard for the hundreds of existing programs will put livelihoods that took years to cultivate, in danger. There has got to be a way to include existing programs in the plan and not pit the private sector against the public schools. Why not find a way to support both.

  3. Maia Gallo 4 months ago4 months ago

    A much better idea would be to give childcare subsidies to every family with children ages 0-5 like they do in many European countries. Teaching Early Childhood Education requires specific knowledge and skillsets as well as developmentally appropriate materials that are completely different than what elementary schools have available to them. To give these young children a quality education in the public school system will be extremely costly, which means that quality will most likely … Read More

    A much better idea would be to give childcare subsidies to every family with children ages 0-5 like they do in many European countries. Teaching Early Childhood Education requires specific knowledge and skillsets as well as developmentally appropriate materials that are completely different than what elementary schools have available to them. To give these young children a quality education in the public school system will be extremely costly, which means that quality will most likely be sacrificed and this good intention will turn into a disaster.

  4. Kim Kruckel 4 months ago4 months ago

    Thank you for posting this summary of Governor Newsom's proposed budget. The Legislature also gets to weigh in how funding for early childhood education will be allocated next year. Legislators hear directly from families and child care providers who are struggling and juggling every day, and their input will differ from the Governor's. Regarding the shortage of child care, there is substantial federal funding to assist child care programs to reopen. Also, the Legislature removed many … Read More

    Thank you for posting this summary of Governor Newsom’s proposed budget. The Legislature also gets to weigh in how funding for early childhood education will be allocated next year. Legislators hear directly from families and child care providers who are struggling and juggling every day, and their input will differ from the Governor’s.

    Regarding the shortage of child care, there is substantial federal funding to assist child care programs to reopen. Also, the Legislature removed many barriers so that it will be easier for home-based child care programs to re-open or expand. Universal preschool will not really help alleviate the child care shortage – but fully operating child care programs will.

    Universal preschool or universal TK is not a panacea when it is not equitable. Universal TK does not meet the needs of families who work nontraditional hours, who have children with disabilities, who need full time child care, and many others who face obstacles because of historic systemic racism. Universal programs often just benefit those who can already afford to pay. Universal preschool is an important part of the early childhood continuum, but it is a part-day, part-year program and it builds on an educational system that many people believe is inherently inequitable.

    Many child care programs – who stayed open during the pandemic, unlike public schools – are experts in child development and understand the diverse needs of their communities 2-, 3- and 4-year olds. We welcome the opportunity to talk with you all at EdSource and connect you with child development experts who can point to the some of the pitfalls of universal TK.

    Thank you!
    Kim Kruckel
    Executive Director, Child Care Law Center

  5. Beatriz Leyva-Cutler 4 months ago4 months ago

    AB 22 must be amended to include all the types of child care that need to be made available to low income families. LEAs should provide universal care, and should not be the only way working families have access to early care and learning for their young children. We are many in private pay, family day care providers and community based programs that oppose AB 22 as it is written. Legislators are diminishing … Read More

    AB 22 must be amended to include all the types of child care that need to be made available to low income families. LEAs should provide universal care, and should not be the only way working families have access to early care and learning for their young children. We are many in private pay, family day care providers and community based programs that oppose AB 22 as it is written.

    Legislators are diminishing the decades of professionalism and work dedicated to lifting early care and learning of the many child care providers in the field. AB must be amended – universal care provided only by USDs is a one size fits all and this does not meet the diverse delivery system that working families need and want.

  6. Cindy 4 months ago4 months ago

    Leslie raises the perfect question! Many of our current preschool teachers feel this way. What about the thought that we don't need to "build a system," we have a system, called preschool. What if we simplified all of this and gave parents the money directly to help them pay for the preschool of their choice? I also don't think it's age appropriate for children to have "another year of Kindergarten" when they should be exploring … Read More

    Leslie raises the perfect question! Many of our current preschool teachers feel this way. What about the thought that we don’t need to “build a system,” we have a system, called preschool. What if we simplified all of this and gave parents the money directly to help them pay for the preschool of their choice? I also don’t think it’s age appropriate for children to have “another year of Kindergarten” when they should be exploring the world. I would love to see a follow up piece on this article from the perspective of the early childhood educator.

  7. leslie 7 months ago7 months ago

    Will the requirements to teach TK change as the expansion takes place? With the teacher shortage and the age range of TK fitting the Early Childhood Education (ECE)degree, will accommodations be made or considered to allow ECE teachers an opportunity to continue teaching without a credential? I was working in a private setting when we called our 4 year old classroom TK, prior to the school getting that title. The requirements to teach this … Read More

    Will the requirements to teach TK change as the expansion takes place? With the teacher shortage and the age range of TK fitting the Early Childhood Education (ECE)degree, will accommodations be made or considered to allow ECE teachers an opportunity to continue teaching without a credential?
    I was working in a private setting when we called our 4 year old classroom TK, prior to the school getting that title. The requirements to teach this age only changed with TK moving into the school system. Thank you!