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Ensuring the Availability of Quality Preschool Programs for California’s Children

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March 9, 2015

Numerous studies have long recognized the many benefits of early childhood education.  These studies have shown that, over the long term, high quality preschool improves student achievement and attendance, increases high school graduation rates, and reduces involvement in juvenile crime.  In fact, research reveals that a high quality preschool program can substantially save taxpayers from incurring costs for remedial education or criminal incarceration.  Some economists estimate that for every dollar invested in early childhood education, there is a return of $16 in such benefits.

There is also strong support among California voters for early childhood education programs.  In a Field Poll conducted last year in collaboration with EdSource, a significant majority of California voters believe that a high quality preschool education is essential to a student’s success in the future.  Specifically, 83 percent of registered voters think that early childhood education plays a is important or somewhat important in the future success of a student.  Moreover, 58 percent of voters believe that the state should expand preschool programs to cover children from low-income families.     

The 2014-15 state budget negotiated and approved by lawmakers during the last legislative session and signed by Governor Brown reflects the voters’ sentiment by providing almost $273 million for early childhood education and child development.  This funding will allow an additional 11,500 low-income four-year-olds to participate in the state’s preschool program

Unfortunately, despite the positive studies, public support, and state money, preschool is still unavailable to about 32,000 eligible four-year-old California children due to a lack of sufficient financial support. Furthermore, while the 2014-15 budget provides $273 million for early learning and child development programs, the California Budget Project notes that this funding does not make up for a 40 percent reduction in funding to these programs that occurred during the recession.  Those cuts resulted in a loss of almost 110,000 childcare and preschool spots.    

In an effort to help address this dilemma, several bills have been introduced in the California legislature this year. (See the Education Legislation Report.)  In assessing these bills, several factors should be considered:

  • Parents and guardians are the first and foremost educators of their children. Catholic teaching support the parents’ right to choose the appropriate educational community for their child—one that supports their values, meets their child’s learning needs and cultivates their child’s natural talents and interests.
  • Ongoing reforms and additional resources should advance innovation, a diverse delivery system, excellence and equity in education through:  Curriculum that educates the whole child; authentic assessment of growth in student learning; meaningful engagement of families; development of highly qualified and  effective educators; a welcoming and safe learning environment; and local school community innovation and flexibility. In addition, early learning programs, appropriate intervention, out-of-school time and enrichment opportunities should also be available for students.

Ultimately, providing preschool access to all California children may entail investments from both the public and private sectors.  Other states have shown evidence of significant private sector interest from large corporations that are willing to invest in early education when offered tax incentives for doing so.  On a federal level, Invest in US is an initiative organized by the First Five Years Fund that challenges public and private partners, business leaders, philanthropists, advocates, elected officials, and individuals to build a better nation by expanding high-quality early childhood education.  The efforts of this initiative have resulted in more than $330 million in new actions from corporate and philanthropic leaders to expand the reach and enhance the quality of early education for thousands of additional children.       

Given the widespread recognition of the myriad benefits of receiving a high-quality preschool education, it is to the benefit of both the individual child and society that all California children are provided with early learning opportunities.  To achieve this goal, creative means of stimulating collaboration and investment from the state and private entities are areas that can be explored, thus helping to ensure the success and security of future generations.