Early Childhood

Gov. Schwarzenegger Signs Legislation Expanding Pre-K

By Linda Jacobson — September 12, 2006 3 min read
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Disappointed by voters’ rejection in June of a broad plan to deliver free preschool to all California 4-year-olds, advocates for early-childhood education have been reinvigorated by the legislative success of a more modest proposal to expand the state’s existing preschool system.

The bill, passed by both chambers of the legislature on Aug. 31 and signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Sept. 7, allocates $50 million to increase preschool enrollment in neighborhoods served by low-performing schools.

During a budget speech in May, Mr. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, said the $50 million would be the first installment of a three-year effort to increase preschool enrollment statewide.

In a press release, Catherine Atkin, the president of a Sacramento-based advocacy group, Preschool California, called the bill’s passage “a victory for California’s at-risk children, their families, and their struggling schools.”

The governor is expected to sign the bill. His final 2006-07 state budget, which he signed over the summer, also includes an additional $50 million in one-time funds to build and renovate preschool facilities.

Improving Family Literacy

The new $50 million for preschool services expands a program targeted to children from low-income families that already serves some 80,000 children in schools, child-care centers, and Head Start centers. The state budget allocates more than $260 million for preschool.

The money, however, comes with a few additional restrictions.

Programs receiving the money must provide staff development on improving teachers’ instructional strategies, assessing prereading skills, or working with families—especially on literacy activities.

Some funds will also be set aside to provide child-care services for families during the hours not covered by the preschool program.

Also attached to the fiscal 2007 budget is a family-literacy component designed to assist parents in helping their children be successful in preschool and later.

Under the program, literacy coordinators, working for local school districts with preschool sites, would coordinate literacy services for the community, form partnerships between preschools and adult education programs, and encourage parental involvement.

Some say the plan shows a policy shift by Gov. Schwarzenegger, who is up for re-election in November.

“What’s ironic is that a Republican moderate chose to target aid to poor and blue-collar families, while a Hollywood Democrat failed in his attempt to offer free preschool to affluent families,” said Bruce Fuller, an education professor at the University of California, Berkeley, referring to the actor-director Rob Reiner’s ballot initiative that failed in the June primary election. (“Calif. Voters Reject Universal Pre-K Initiative,” June 14, 2006.)

Mr. Reiner’s Preschool for All plan would have been financed by a tax on wealthy Californians.

Shortcomings Cited

But Mr. Fuller, who opposed the Preschool for All proposal, added that Mr. Schwarzenegger’s plan might be taking the idea of targeting preschool services too far.

“It prioritizes communities that have the lowest test-score results,” Mr. Fuller said. “But some of these communities have ample supply after 40 years of targeting preschool support on the poor, compared with new working-class neighborhoods where parents have earned a bit too much to qualify for public preschool.”

Advocates for Hispanic families see other problems with the plan.

Janet Murguía, the president of the National Council of La Raza, a civil rights organization based in Washington, said in a press release that the legislation doesn’t do enough for Latino families in California, in part because it doesn’t require teachers to be trained to work with English language-learners, and doesn’t provide for full-day services.

“Almost half of all children in California affected by the implementation of the governor’s preschool funding are Latino,” she said. “It is clear that for California’s preschool program to be considered successful, it must serve Latino children and families effectively.”

A version of this article appeared in the September 13, 2006 edition of Education Week as Gov. Schwarzenegger Signs Legislation Expanding Pre-K

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