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New push underway to expand preschool for low-income children in California

December 6, 2018
Zaidee Stavely

Even before California’s next governor takes office, the pressure is already mounting for him to follow through on campaign promises to improve access to preschool for the state’s 4-year-olds.

Governor-elect Gavin Newsom made expansion of early education programs a major part of his campaign, but what form that will take will become clearer when he releases his proposed budget for the next fiscal year in January.

Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, a longtime advocate for early education, introduced three bills this week to expand preschool programs, improve preschool facilities and increase reimbursement rates for preschool teachers.

“Unfortunately we have too many kids who start kindergarten behind and never catch up, and that’s because too many 3- and 4-year-olds never have the chance to attend preschool,” McCarty said.

He expressed hope that the new bills would pass under a Newsom governorship. “I think that the window for this has never been more open,” said McCarty, who is chair of the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance. “We have a great opportunity.”

In one of his first public indications of what he might do in response to multiple demands for spending, Newsom tempered expectations for universal preschool.

“Even if you wanted to provide universal preschool, you could not achieve that in the immediate term,” he told the Sacramento Bee. “It would take years and years to build out that infrastructure.”

Currently only 69 percent of 4-year-olds and 38 percent of 3-year-olds in California who are eligible for public preschool programs are enrolled, according to the Learning Policy Institute, a research and policy organization in Palo Alto.

One of McCarty’s bills would provide preschool to all 4-year-olds who are eligible for public preschool because their families earn less than 70 percent of the state median income ($63,083 for a family of four).

The estimated cost of the bill is $1.5 billion, which McCarty says could fund up to 100,000 new spots for preschool in the state.