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Education

Los Angeles preschool advocates cheer Obama's budget, but will it pass?



Ellyana Benitez, left, and Briana Melgar brush their teeth after lunch at the Monrovia
Ellyana Benitez, left, and Briana Melgar brush their teeth after lunch at the Monrovia "Options" Head Start program.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC


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Early education advocates were thrilled at the $75 billion President Barack Obama proposed Tuesday to spend on their cause over the next 10 years - even though the budget is unlikely to pass as is.

Alex Morales, CEO of the Children’s Bureau of Southern California, said the president's proposed expansion - to $1.3 billion next year to implement universal preschool and expand other programs - would be a game changer for the poor families his organization serves.

“These are predominantly families living on one to two thousand dollars per month,” Morales said. “Having more resources, allowing the availability of quality childcare would be very meaningful in our neighborhoods.”

The President requested the same thing last year, to no avail.

“The preschool for all matching is still funded by the pretty unpopular tobacco tax increase,” said Clara McCann, of the New America Foundation. “There’s not a lot here that is going to make Republicans in the House change their mind about how they feel about it.”

Quick look at what the President proposes:

A Department of Education statement touted the President’s proposal as “one of the boldest efforts to expand educational opportunity in the last 50 years.” 

Helen Blank at the National Women’s Law Center’s Child Care and Early Learning program said in a statement that the spending proposed “will put children on the path to success in school and in life and enable their parents to work and support their families.”

While the President's budget wends its way through Washington, legislators in Sacramento are weighing a similar expansion.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, introduced a bill earlier this year that would expand California's version of universal preschool, Transitional Kindergarten, to all 4-year-olds. That amounts to 350,000 additional children attending transitional kindergarten by 2019-2020.

It's estimated to cost $198 million in the first year. Supporters of the bill say it is a fraction of the state’s general fund surplus.

Steinberg proposes a five-year phase-in period, which would add 46,000 4-year-olds each year. At the moment, only those who narrowly missed the cutoff for Kindergarten are eligible for the program. The five-year cost to the state would be $990 million.  

Governor Jerry Brown did not include money in his January budget proposal for the program expansion. Committee hearings on the bill,  SB 837, begin in early April.