Over the last few years, California Democrats in the state assembly and Gov. Jerry Brown have presided over a big retrofit of the state’s K-12 finance system on the back of a major statewide income tax increase, finally achieved through passage of Proposition 30 in 2012. However, there’s one significant education policy issue where liberal state legislators and the Democratic governor don’t see eye-to-eye: the expansion of state-backed prekindergarten.
Back in January, I mentioned that Democrats included the expansion of pre-K in their budget blueprint for the upcoming fiscal year. Of their three priorities for early education, “transitional kindergarten” (a program that extends kindergarten to 4-year-olds and uses a modified kindergarten curriculum) is the key one:
So what’s the problem? Brown’s proposed budget for fiscal 2015 does not include the expansion of transitional kindergarten to make it universal, although he’s not an ideological foe of the expansion per se. Rather, he has warned legislators against putting the state’s projected $3.2 billion surplus into new programs. The governor wants to focus on paying down state debt instead.
Via The Sun newspaper in California, state Senate President Darrell Steinberg, who introduced the Kindergarten Readiness Act this year that would make transitional kindergarten available to every 4-year-old in the state. He has pegged the additional cost of making transitional kindergarten universal at $198 million each year over a five-year period ending in 2019-20. That would make the total new cost $990 million.
That brings me to the results of a survey about transitional kindergarten conducted by the Field Poll conducted in partnership with EdSource, a California education research and policy group. Released on April 18, the survey of 1,000 registered voters in California shows that 60 percent believe transitional kindergarten should be universal for all 4-year olds, compared to 25 percent that believe it shoudn’t be. (One sidelight worth noting is that the Field Poll’s statement about the survey appears to put the cost of making the program universal at $1.4 billion, much higher than the estimate from Steinberg’s office.)
Among the different demographic groups surveyed, only one group had less than a majority respond that providing an additional year of schooling was “very important"—non-Hispanic whites:
Check out the rest of the survey for other interesting results.
Brown will put out a revised budget in mid-May, but if he sticks to his original January budget plan, expanding transitional kindergarten still won’t make the cut. Just how much of a dispute will the issue become between the governor and Democratic legislators?
A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.