Early Edge California was founded as Preschool California in 2003, with the goal of expanding access to high-quality preschool to all children in California. After nearly twenty years, that vision is on the cusp of being a reality.
Every spring, our state’s Governor presents a proposed budget package to the Legislature and people of California, outlining his or her vision for the state for the next year. Following this presentation, known as the May Revision, the Legislature and the Governor negotiate a final budget, which the Governor signs in June and is implemented on July 1st.
This year, in his May Revision budget proposal, Governor Gavin Newsom laid out a plan to expand transitional kindergarten (TK) to all four-year-olds over the next four years, while also cutting the teacher-to-child ratio in half and making investments to support the Early Learning workforce pipeline. With this action, every child in California, regardless of their income or where they live, will have access to an Early Learning program that will help prepare them for kindergarten and beyond. In addition, the Governor’s budget proposes funding to provide before- and after-school care to students, including those in TK, and additional funding for support staff including school nurses, counselors, and teacher’s assistants.
TK is incredibly popular among California parents – more than 70% of parents of currently eligible children enroll. “I think TK is the best thing in the world they could have come up with,” stated one member of Early Edge’s Parent Advisory Group. In a recent Advisory Group meeting, parents described how their children benefited from TK and how upset and frustrated they were that other children, who did not have fall birthdays, were unable to attend. Similarly, parents agree that early education sets the foundation for a child’s entire academic career: according to a poll released by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), 80% of parents in California say attending preschool is very or somewhat important to student success in K–12 education.
In addition to its popularity, TK will help advance equity. One report found that a substantial portion of the academic achievement gap in California comes from the varied experiences of children before they enter kindergarten—children who start behind their peers, often lower-income children of color, are unable to catch up. Research demonstrates that children attending a Pre-K program like TK are more likely to enter kindergarten prepared to learn, resulting in fewer children needing special education services or being required to repeat a grade and more children graduating from high school.
We now know that children’s brains are rapidly developing between ages 0-5, with 0-3 being particularly crucial years. To this end, the budget makes a number of investments in the Early Learning field. Specifically, the budget maintains investments in the California State Preschool Program (CSPP), which serves 3- and 4-year-old children, while creating an additional 100,000 subsidized child care slots for children of all ages. The budget also eliminates family fees for low-income families for the 2021-22 fiscal year. The Governor’s plan supports children with special needs and their families by providing a significant, ongoing expansion of the funds used for early assessment and intervention.
In addition to maintaining a focus on the needs of children, it is important to acknowledge how much the Early Learning and child care workforce have contributed during the COVID-19 crisis and how much they have sacrificed. Many providers put their own personal and financial health at risk—half of family child care providers and more than a quarter of center-based providers indicated that they were unable to pay themselves at least once during the pandemic and 80% reported that paying for needed cleaning and PPE supplies was a challenge.
To support the Early Learning and Care workforce, the budget proposal provides one-time stipends of $3,500-$6,500 to help address the costs of COVID-19, as well as continuing a policy of paying providers based on enrollment rather than attendance (“hold harmless”), which allows for greater financial stability. The budget proposal expands the Child Care Initiative Project, which aims to increase the number of licensed providers and provides millions of dollars in funding available for building or improving child care facilities.
The proposals included in the May Revise provide a great start to rebuild California’s Early Learning and Care system so little kids can go back to in-person learning, parents, especially mothers, can go back to work, and teachers feel safe and supported. Our vision and hope is to also see higher reimbursement rates, the number of subsidized child care slots continue to increase, and supports provided for informal child care providers.
This is a historic moment for Early Learning, and we are looking forward to working with the Governor and the Legislature to make California a great place for all kids to learn and grow.