Credit: Allison Shelley for American Education
Preschool students practice hammering plastic nails into a foam pad in a sensory center.

Early childhood experts agree that systemic educational equities cannot be addressed without equitable access to high-quality learning that spans from birth to age 5.

So it may come as a surprise that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposal to expand transitional kindergarten (TK) to all 4-year-olds is met with disapproval from early learning advocates. The announcement is well-intentioned; however, it comes with a host of problems.

TK is a public school program originally created to accommodate 4-year-olds turning 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2. Started in 2012, it’s essentially an extra grade before children enroll in regular kindergarten the next year. The governor’s proposal would expand the program to all 4-year-olds over time, regardless of their birthday. But transitional kindergarten wasn’t designed to serve children as young as 48 months. That’s what preschool is for.

Most don’t realize the devastating toll this would have on child care providers and, in turn, on working families. Due to the high cost of caring for infants and toddlers, child care programs rely on serving a range of age groups to keep costs down for parents. For many programs, this includes providing quality, accredited preschool curriculum for 4-year-olds.

Pulling 4-year-olds out of non-school district programs to attend TK will cripple the child care industry. Adult-to-child ratio requirements for children aged 0 to 2 are less than half of other age groups, which means providers will be forced to double their labor costs just to remain open.

This means the cost of infant and toddler care will skyrocket for all families, and more providers will close. Having just lost 8,500 child care centers, California families cannot afford higher costs and longer commute times or leaving their job to care for their children.

As child care providers who serve customers of all backgrounds throughout the state, we see firsthand why our wraparound services are fundamental. By utilizing our extended hours, weekend care and meal programs, families rely on us to deliver services TK is incapable of providing. Losing those services would be devastating to families.

Don’t just take our word for it – New York City provides empirical evidence. In 2014, the city expanded its universal preschool program to include 4-year-olds and, like Newsom’s proposal, ran them primarily through public schools.

The result? A 15 to 20% reduction in the availability of infant and toddler care, primarily impacting low-income areas. Erosion in the quality of these programs ensued, as providers were forced to reduce staff and cut costs. All this furthered the racial divide in accessing quality preschool, as concluded in a new study by researchers at UC Berkeley. California would see similar results if we were to implement the governor’s proposal.

Restricting free preschool to public schools is not worth these outcomes.

For these reasons, early learning advocates support “mixed delivery,” in which state-funded early learning programs can be in any school, licensed child care center, licensed family child care home or Head Start program that meets quality criteria.

A mixed-delivery system meets the needs of families by offering options that work best for their location and schedule, including wraparound care. Most important, it better serves the child. Science demonstrates that young children do better under the care of a single provider, rather than experiencing multiple disruptions a day.

The Legislature added some provisions to improve the governor’s proposal, including $200 million to help local education agencies (LEAs) with planning for TK, but that does not include non-LEA providers that don’t have state child care or preschool contracts, including 30% of Head Start agencies.

While we applaud this addition, it will not prevent any of the aforementioned consequences and helps a very limited number of families. Head Start programs are run by different kinds of agencies, and Head Start California has submitted a $50 million budget request to ensure those providers are treated equitably. We urge Newsom and the Legislature to allow transitional kindergarten to include the current network of qualified child care and preschool providers, in addition to public schools. This will save taxpayers by utilizing existing infrastructure.

The question is: Why wouldn’t our policymakers allow TK to be open to qualified, nationally accredited child care programs, as many other states do? By giving California families options for care and avoiding a crumbling of the child care sector, it seems to be the only solution that makes sense.

If New York City teaches us anything, it should be this: When it comes to implementing universal preschool, we ought to do it right.


Christopher Maricle is executive director of Head Start California. Teri Davies is senior vice president of the Learning Care Group, West Division.

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  1. Lea Harte 9 months ago9 months ago

    How can we get policymakers to offer financing TK in quality private and public preschool settings?

  2. Jasmine Taylor 2 years ago2 years ago

    Set something up like florida does. Florida has a VPK (voluntary pre kindergarten) voucher program through a third party for each county funded by the state for 4 year olds prior to kindergarten. Parents can choose which private facility or set up through the public school district facility that accepts the program. This gives the funding the private care facilities the funding they need to keep prices down and stay open.

  3. Holly Gold 2 years ago2 years ago

    Thanks for this. I am another provider that would cut back or close. Our (Oakland/Rockridge) neighborhood lost 2 long-term schools this month. Many long-term teachers were laid off and the city lost much-need tax revenue. Parents don't realize that AB22 will put so many providers out of business creating a supply and demand crisis; the few surviving preschools will raise prices to continue. I for one, am not interested in staying in a field that … Read More

    Thanks for this. I am another provider that would cut back or close. Our (Oakland/Rockridge) neighborhood lost 2 long-term schools this month. Many long-term teachers were laid off and the city lost much-need tax revenue. Parents don’t realize that AB22 will put so many providers out of business creating a supply and demand crisis; the few surviving preschools will raise prices to continue.

    I for one, am not interested in staying in a field that only caters to the financially elite. Why isn’t anyone talking about the cost of public school-based TK? The expense per child is more that the most expensive preschool. So sad to see public school pressures that already create such problems being put on young families.

  4. Gloria Almodovar 2 years ago2 years ago

    I have been working in Early Childhood since 1993 with a CDA, my husband was in the Army for 20 years. Four years olds need to be in a smaller preschool setting for many reasons, and parents need to work. Our day care providers are trained, and the hours are better for working parents. Many day carer are open from 6:30-5:30, some 7:30-5:30. This helps the working parents !!!

  5. Judy Haus 2 years ago2 years ago

    I’m the program director of a CA private preschool and I ask Governor Newsom to have the TK money follow the child in a mixed delivery system where families can choose their community preschool or a public TK.

    Support Working families and ECE educators with a Mixed Delivery System!

  6. Sara Schrichte 2 years ago2 years ago

    The system is flawed for sure, but we should be demanding that the system change to serve families rather than complain about how we need families to continue propping up a flawed system. Preschool in CA can cost $20k per year.

    TK makes a big difference especially when families can put that money to use elsewhere. Universal preschool would be even better and it might better protect those working in the industry as well.

  7. Lucia Flores 2 years ago2 years ago

    I think all parents who are low income and middle class should have the rights to have child care for free at age of 3 because we live in a very expensive state.

    We pay a lot for rent and mortgage plus to pay for toddlers’ education is too much. We can not afford it; that’s why we need the assistance for free.

  8. Dr. Dorothy Stewart 2 years ago2 years ago

    Thank you for this op ed!!! We are one of the many California Child Care programs that will likely be forced to close if Governor Newsom does not add a mixed delivery system encompassing public and private child care to the TK option,