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Governor vetoes preschool measure

by Deepa Fernandes | Take Two®

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Long Beach preschool teacher, Anabel Lopez, leads children in a round of singing and dancing. Lopez was fearful that she might be laid off due to inconsistent payments by the Department of Education to her organization, Comprehensive Child Development. Deepa Fernandes / KPCC

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a measure Friday that would have expanded preschool to all the state’s low-income four year-olds. Preschool advocates had hoped that AB 47 would become law.

Called the Preschool for All Act, the measure had a name that was a slight misnomer as it would have only provided preschool for children in families who have a low enough income to qualify for subsidized or free preschool.

Currently, there are estimated to be 32,000 low-income children who are not attending preschool because there are not enough seats.

The preschool bill had a pretty easy path through the legislature and it had many supporters outside of the state halls of power, including the editorial board of the Sacramento Bee, school districts, religious groups, and the L.A. Chamber of Commerce.  

But opponents cited the cost -- about $300 million a year -- in opposing its passage.

Brown said in his veto message:

Last year's education omnibus trailer bill already codified the intent to make preschool and other full-day, full year early education and care opportunities available to all low-income children. The discussion on expanding state preschoool — which takes into account rates paid to providers as well as access and availability for families — should be considered in the budget process, as it is every year. A bill that sets an arbitrary deadline, contingent on a sufficient appropriation, is unnecessary.

The bill would have ensured that all income eligible four year-olds who are not enrolled in the state’s Transitional Kindergarten program would have a state preschool seat. It was contingent upon the state legislature appropriating the funds each year, which some say makes the bill mostly symbolic.

Deborah Kong, president of Early Edge California that had supported the measure, said in a statement: 

"We had the opportunity to right a wrong in California where tens of thousands of kids from low income families were denied access to preschool. We're disappointed but not discouraged. We will  continue to stand by the 30,000 low income 4 year olds who need and deserve the opportunity to start kindergarten ready to learn on day one."

Alex Johnson, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund, said before the governor's action that despite the fact that no money was attached to the bill, it was still very important. “The bill lays out an essential blueprint to get to the place where all low-income children have access to high quality early education they need to thrive, and also reiterates the state’s commitment to our youngest children.”

Johnson pointed out that in California it is children of color who are most dramatically impacted by poverty. “Today, one in four California children – and one in three Latino and African American children in California – lives in poverty,” he said.

“Studies show that disparities in cognitive development appear between children of higher and lower-income families early in life, and by the time children enter kindergarten, too many of our poor children and children of color are already behind their classmates – and it’s hard to catch up,” he said.  

Currently in California, the state department of education provides funds for preschool through a state preschool program and the newer Transitional Kindergarten program, known as TK.

TK is part of the public school system, a preparatory grade preceding kindergarten. Teachers of TK must have higher educational credentials, and show credits in early childhood. They are also paid on par with kindergarten teachers and that often works out to more than state preschool teachers. Some say this makes TK a higher quality experience than state preschool, however, there have been no comparative studies to date.

A recent report from the New America Foundation laid out the differences between state preschool and TK, finding TK to be of higher quality.

This California legislation comes as a study out of Vanderbilt University showed Tennessee's state preschool program had impacts that faded by the early grades. In fact, researchers there discovered that children who had no preschool at all and come from comparable families slightly outperformed the kids who came through the state preschool program. It has been widely reported that the poorer quality of the Tennessee program might be the reason the impact waned as kids hit second and third grades.

Kong believes the Tennessee study cannot be used as a comparison to California’s program.  

“We should see Tennessee as a call to invest in quality schools, not leave our vulnerable children behind—especially in the face of decades of research on the lasting benefits of quality preschool.”

This story has been updated.

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