Fifteen percent of 4-year-olds and 10 percent of 3-year-olds are enrolled in California’s state-funded preschool. The state also has 24,652 children under the age of three enrolled in Early Head Start. However, currently less than half of low-income children in the state have access to publicly funded preschool. Additionally, the average annual cost of center-based infant care in the state is $12,068. Along with increasing access, advocates and state leaders have been on a mission to increase the quality of pre-K programs offered in the state. In addition, support for early childhood education across the state has been made loud and clear, as supporters were successful in urging Gov. Jerry Brown to restore cuts and include additional investments for early learning in his 2014-2015 state budget.
- What’s happening in the legislature: California’s 2014-2015 state budget includes nearly $273 million for early learning and child development, allowing around 11,500 more low-income 4-year-olds to enroll in high-quality preschool. This investment, which was the largest in more than a decade, includes funding to improve quality of programs, expand access, increase focus on infants and toddlers, and restore rates and support providers. Highlights of the budget include $50 million for ongoing grants to support quality improvements, $25 million for professional development training for transitional kindergarten and state preschool teachers, and $70 million to provide full-day, full-year preschool to more children.
- What advocates are saying: Advancement Project, a national civil rights organization, has shown support for the bills being considered in the legislature, as they would especially benefit Latino families across the state. Early Edge California, an organization focused on increasing access to high-quality preschool programs in the state, has also stated support for both SB 837 and SB 1123, declaring that “California is poised to make 2014 the year of early learning.” Additionally, a network of early education advocates called Raising California Together organized a bus tour from San Diego to Sacramento, hoping to encourage Gov. Jerry Brown to reconsider his proposed budget, and either boost state preschool funding or expand the state’s transitional kindergarten program.
- Public support for early childhood education: An April 2014 poll conducted by the Field Research Corporation in partnership with EdSource found widespread support for early childhood education in California. Of the surveyed 1,000 registered voters in the state, 79 percent said that increasing access to preschool for 4-year-olds was either “very important” or “somewhat important.” Sixty percent of voters also stated their support for SB 837, a bill introduced in the legislature to expand the state’s transitional kindergarten program to more 4-year-olds.
- Funding increases and additional support: In August, the Los Angeles Unified Board of Education passed a resolution to increase funding levels for early childhood programs in the district over the next three years. Early childhood programs will receive $4.9 million more for the 2014-2015 school year, with an additional $14 million planned for the 2015-2016 school year.