Assembly Bill 47, known as the “Preschool for All Act of 2015,” recently made its way through the California State Assembly and Senate to Gov. Brown’s desk. On Oct. 9, 2015, the governor vetoed it.
The bill would have set a deadline of June 30, 2018 by which California would need to provide state preschool for all children meeting income eligibility requirements. It would allow for low-income families to send their children to preschool, something that they may otherwise not be able to afford. The governor said that the deadline included in the bill is “unnecessary” and that preschool expansion should be considered as a part of the budget process.
Proponents of the bill had hoped that the deadline would prioritize expanding preschool access for the state and had feared that, without a deadline, preschool will not receive the funding it needs in the near future. In light of the governor’s veto, those in favor of expanding preschool access are now urging the governor to prioritize funding the expansion of state preschool when he submits the proposed 2016-17 budget next January.
Expanding state preschool is an essential step in the right direction for California. California currently ranks 26th in preschool access out of the 41 states that offer some form of state-funded preschool. Among the same states, it ranks 18th in resources spent, spending a little more than $4,000 on average per preschooler, while other states such as New Jersey spend more than $12,000 per preschooler.
Gov. Brown can help address this lack of access and resources by prioritizing expanding state preschool in the state budget. Despite California receiving higher state revenues than predicted in the budget forecast, state funding for childcare and preschool is still more than 20 percent below pre-recession levels. Last year, California’s budget provided enough money to open up about 7,000 additional spots in preschool. Although this helped some California children, it was just a drop in the bucket when compared to the more than 32,000 preschool-aged children in California who meet the income eligibility requirement but lack preschool access. We need to urge Gov. Brown to guarantee access to all eligible children, not just a lucky few.
Studies show that children who attend preschool are more likely to stay in school and lead successful lives. In addition, it is not just the preschoolers and their families that will benefit if preschool is accessible to all. Research shows that access to quality preschool has great returns for society as well. Those who go to high quality preschools are more likely to have higher paying jobs and are less likely to drop out of school, need social services or get into trouble with the law. This ultimately leads to an estimated $3 to $10 in savings for society for every $1 invested in preschool. This makes preschool not only the right choice for the individual, but for society as well.
With President Obama and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton both promoting the idea of expanding preschool access, the idea of making quality education available to our young children is receiving more of the public’s attention. While many believe that it is a good idea, there is often the question of how it would be funded. Gov. Brown has a unique opportunity to use his influence over California’s budget to dedicate more funding toward state preschools. He has the chance to make California a leader in providing quality education to its youngest children and in turn to help California’s workforce improve by promoting an intellectual curiosity among children that will last beyond preschool.
As a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, I know that it was not just my hard work that got me to where I am today. The neighborhood that I grew up in, the resources available to my family and the opportunities that I was afforded as a result of my surrounding environment influenced who I have become. Not everybody is lucky enough to grow up with these opportunities. Expansion of state preschool would help to level the playing field so that children living in environments that make it harder to succeed will have a better chance at doing well.
All children deserve the opportunity to live a successful life. Ensuring that California expands access to preschool so that all children have a chance to benefit from it should be one of our top priorities. Everyone deserves equal opportunity, regardless of income.