In his January budget draft, Governor Brown proposed consolidating three pre-kindergarten programs into one $1.6 billion block grant to the counties. Local education agencies would receive, and determine how to disperse, these block grant funds.
California’s state-funded preschool programs include varied funding streams, eligibility requirements, and curriculums. These programs consist of the California State Preschool Program ($880 million), a small block grant for quality rating and improvement systems ($50 million), and Transitional Kindergarten ($725 million).
Streamlining the current system is a reasonable objective; however, we believe that improving California’s early care and learning system is too important and too large an investment to be carried out in the budget planning process.
Contra Costa’s leaders in early care and education, representing First 5 Contra Costa, the Contra Costa Child Care Council, Community Services Department, and Contra Costa County Office of Education, jointly raise these concerns with the Governor’s proposal:
The Preschool Block Grant is significantly underfunded. During the Great Recession, California’s funding for child care and early learning was cut by $1 billion, leaving 100,000 children without preschool. To date, only $350 million has been restored. Increased funding is needed to ensure all low-income children receive quality preschool experiences, which research shows improves their futures. Only 60% of California children attend preschool. A block grant is capped funding, can diminish in value over time, and is not necessarily protected in tough budget times.
Parents rely on California’s mixed delivery system to go to work. Licensed child care and early learning are provided in a mixed delivery system that includes small and large family child care homes and public and private centers. The variety offered allows parents to choose the best setting for their family’s needs, including full-day care. It is unknown if school districts will support this model and what working parents will do if districts don’t.
These Pre-K Programs meet different needs. The State Preschool Program (CSPP) combines Prop 98 and General Fund dollars in public and private centers, offering part-day and full-day care for children living at 200% of poverty. The curriculum is child-development focused and CSPP sites rate among the highest in Contra Costa’s quality rating scale. Transitional Kindergarten (TK) uses Prop 98 for School districts to provide a kindergarten curriculum and standards for children with fall birthdays after the September 1 kindergarten enrollment cut-off date. Combining these programs in a block grant without a clear definition of the hoped for result is risky and fraught.
Reform is welcome, but not through the budget process. We’re firm believers in streamlining systems to be most effective, but early learning is too important and too large a system to be reformed in a rushed four-month budget process. The Bay Area Quality Early Learning Partnership has produced actionable recommendations for building a system based on high-quality for the California children who need it the most. We recommend that the legislature use these recommendations as the foundation for crafting the pre-k reform that everyone desires.
We’ll learn more when the May Revise is released. In the meantime, the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance voted last week to reject the Governor’s proposal, citing similar concerns raised above.