California Democrats to push for free preschool

SACRAMENTO, California Tue Jan 7, 2014 8:32am EST

California Senate president pro tempore Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) celebrates as his bill SB743 passes, which modifies the California Environmental Quality Act, at the State Capitol in Sacramento, California, September 12, 2013. REUTERS/Max Whittaker

California Senate president pro tempore Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) celebrates as his bill SB743 passes, which modifies the California Environmental Quality Act, at the State Capitol in Sacramento, California, September 12, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Max Whittaker

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SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) - A top California lawmaker on Tuesday is expected to unveil a proposal to fund free public preschool for all children in the most populous U.S. state.

The plan by Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat, to offer a pre-kindergarten program to four-year-olds in the western state comes as he and other Democratic legislators try to push California Governor Jerry Brown to increase spending on social services, including education, in next year's budget.

Steinberg and senate Democrats who support his plan expect to introduce legislation establishing the pre-kindergarten program this week, said the senator's spokesman, Mark Hedlund.

The proposal is expected to involve expanding an existing program aimed at children who turn five years old too late in the year to attend regular kindergarten. Details such as the cost of the plan would be released on Tuesday, Hedlund said.

Brown, who previously governed the state from 1975 to 1983, has toed a centrist line since taking the helm again in 2011. He has repeatedly cautioned progressive legislators not to overspend now that the state has its first real surplus in years.

His proposed budget for 2014-2015, which would go into effect in July, is expected to reflect massive changes to the way California funds education. Under a new program pushed through by Brown last year, extra funds are funneled to schools with large populations of children who are poor or do not speak English.

A spokesman for Brown on Monday said the governor, who is set to release his budget on Friday, has no comment on the preschool plan.

Steinberg's proposal was welcomed by education advocate Ted Lempert, who said studies have repeatedly shown that children who attend high-quality pre-school programs do better than those who do not.

"Higher income families are already making sure their children have access to high quality pre-kindergarten," said Lempert, president of the Oakland-based group Children Now.

"It's imperative that all kids have access to that - so you don't have an achievement gap before kids are even entering kindergarten."

Even though the majority of states offer some sort of preschool program for low-income families, few states offer so-called "universal preschool" for all children. Parents whose incomes are too high to qualify for state-run programs must pay out-of-pocket for private ones or find other childcare options.

Under a plan proposed last year by President Barack Obama but stalled in Congress, the federal government would spend $75 billion over 10 years to widen access to state preschool programs for lower-income families.

The plan also sought to encourage states to broaden access so middle-class families could opt in.

(Editing by Eric M. Johnson and Eric Walsh)

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Comments (29)
tmc wrote:
Following the Progressives of NY? This is a step in the wrong direction but a very good one for politicians. It does not help our education system at all and may in time harm it. The advantages of pre-school disappear before high school. The perceived advantage is one of affluence. Those that can now afford to send their child too pre-school are more affluent and hence they have the advantage. Putting more students in pre-school will not affect graduation rates or scores. It amounts to nothing more than free baby sitting. The money would be much better spent elsewhere in education. Once the program is established the general school taxes will inevitably rise hurting the middle class, not the wealthy. Then the school system also has to handle another “grade”. Unfortunately it is a real winner for politicians as they can promise something beneficial to there voters for free, paid for by the evil wealthy.

Jan 07, 2014 8:17am EST  --  Report as abuse
tmc wrote:
If this is such a good idea, then call it what it is and see if you can get the votes for it. It is expanding the school system to include day care for 4 year old children. It is not educational. It has been scientifically proven many times that the brain is not developed enough until 5 years old. That’s why the grades have been the way they are. Besides, we’re already broke!

Jan 07, 2014 8:21am EST  --  Report as abuse
gloomndoom wrote:
The evidence of the impact of early education on brain development is somewhat convincing. Can you cite who believes the advantage disappears by high school? The affluent may have more time, energy, and knowledge to share with their kids. Shall we just accept retarded development in those who don’t get the required stimulation as young children for proper brain development?

Jan 07, 2014 8:34am EST  --  Report as abuse
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