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Universal preschool bill advances in the Assembly

Universal preschool might become available to all California 3- and 4-year-olds if a new bill eventually gets signed into law.

Introduced by state Sen. Connie M. Leyva,D-Chino, Senate Bill 976  would remove requirements that students be low-income to enroll in free state preschool and allow community child care providers such as in-home day cares to tap into state funds. The bill passed out of the Assembly Human Services Committee Tuesday.

Transitional kindergarten, a bridge between preschool and kindergarten, will also be available to all 4-year-olds by 2025-2026. But Levya believes that working families would prefer more flexible hours and services than the TK-12 system can provide.

“As the mom of twin daughters—and now both of them with small children of their own—I know firsthand the importance of early care and education,” Leyva said.  “It is so important that we offer flexibility and options for working families with children who would benefit from transitional kindergarten but are unable to access those services because of their own work or other day-to-day responsibilities.  With a mixed delivery system—as advanced in SB 976—parents with young children would have the needed flexibility for care, such as early drop-off, late pick-up, weekend care, or year-round care, as well as, help to protect the stability of jobs for teachers at community-based providers, which employ primarily women of color.”

Proponents of the bill view it as a way to bolster the state’s beleaguered early childhood care sector, which has been hard hit during the pandemic.

“If the state intends to preserve a mixed delivery system so that families have options to meet their needs, it must provide resources to ensure that the whole system can participate in planning, pay their professionals on par with their peers and that the roll-out is equitable,” said Stacy Hae Lim Lee, senior managing director for early childhood at Children Now, an advocacy organization. “As it stands, without the elements included in SB 976, we will further destabilize the early learning landscape and children and families will lose options.”

Critics of the bill, while supporting early childhood education in general, point out that 4-year-olds will already have access to TK, which will free up many spots in the state’s subsidized preschool program for younger children.

“I do not believe we need more funding going to 4-year-olds,” said Scott Moore, head of Kidango, a nonprofit organization that runs many Bay Area child care centers. “With universal TK, all 4-year-olds will be served, so we should target new resources to serve younger children, especially low-income children. TK not only represents a historic expansion for 4-year-olds, (but) it allows current funding that serves low-income 4-year-olds in Head Start and State Preschool to serve them when they are younger. This will help meet an urgent need for families, which is infant-toddler child care.”

Some experts also believe that expanded transitional kindergarten will offer a high-quality early childhood program that can not easily be matched.

The bill fundamentally changes California’s plan to put publicly supported preschool for 4-year-olds in TK,” said Deborah Stipek, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education and an early education expert. “I can see many advantages to supporting the community-based child care programs, as are described in the bill. But there are also many downsides. It would be much more expensive and very difficult (and costly) to do quality control. TK teachers need a teaching credential — ultimately I hope a P-3 credential. We wouldn’t be able to require that level of teacher preparation in community settings.”

 


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