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Broad alliance formed to expand preschool at local level

May 2, 2016
AccessState & LocalUniversal and Targeted
Jeremy Hay

Despite strong support for universal preschool for 4-year-olds in the state Legislature and among the public at large, getting programs started – and funded – on a local level is another matter altogether.

That’s what a broad-based coalition is focusing on in Petaluma and the countryside that surrounds it north of San Francisco. The coalition is the type of alliance increasingly seen as the only way to push universal preschool past funding and political logjams at a local level. It reflects a collaborative approach slowly emerging in communities around the state, with organizations joining together to advocate for greater access to preschool for all families, especially those who are lower-income, and to harness the political will and funds to make it possible.

“You’ve got people around the table who are from schools, businesses, from health care, all speaking the same language. We know what the questions are, we know what the solutions are,” said Alfredo Perez, a member of the Petaluma group and executive director of First 5 Sonoma County, the tobacco-tax-funded organization that advocates for children and early education.

In Petaluma, a city of about 60,000, the effort is being led by the Community Health Initiative of the Petaluma Area. Its goal is enrolling all the estimated 500 3- and 4-year-olds in and around the city who are not currently in preschool.

The group is to notch its first major advance this spring with the opening of a preschool on the campus of the Valley Vista Elementary School on the edge of Petaluma.

The new preschool was a response to the changing demographics in the region. As immigration reshaped the community around Valley Vista, the school’s student body changed, too, to include many more low-income students, more students learning English, and more students unprepared for kindergarten.