Preschool Legislation Aimed at Closing the Achievement Gap in California Becomes Law
By Catherine Atkin
California’s children and families have something to celebrate after Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed two key preschool bills that cut through red tape and increase local flexibility, potentially giving thousands more children access to preschool.
Senate Bill 1629 by Senator Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Bill 2759 by Assemblymember Dave Jones lay the foundation for a high-quality preschool system and streamline an unnecessarily complex bureaucracy.
“"Pre-kindergarten education is the first formal step a child takes toward academic success and California's children deserve the highest-quality programs that put them on track to a successful future," Gov. Schwarzenegger said.
The two bills, which do not spend any new general fund dollars, were co-sponsored by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, Children Now, Preschool California and the California Child Development Administrators Association.
“Ensuring access for our children to the highest quality preschool experience possible is an absolutely imperative,” O’Connell said. “The single most daunting challenge facing public education in our state today is the achievement gap. Providing high-quality preschool is key to closing this gap and ensuring that all children learn at the high levels we know they can.”
AB 2759 consolidates five child development programs for preschool-aged children into one. It streamlines the administration of programs providing services to 3 and 4 year olds, combines statutory and regulatory requirements for the programs and ensures that children receive either part-day or full-day child development services based on the needs of the family.
“AB 2759 helps to reduce administrative costs and burdens and allows funding to get to where it's most needed – to provide more quality preschool and early childhood education programs to children most in need," Jones said.
SB 1629 establishes a commission to create a state Early Learning Quality Improvement System, which will develop a framework for improving the quality of early education programs. This includes a quality rating scale to help parents make informed decisions about programs for their children, and a graduated funding model to help existing and future programs reach and maintain higher levels of quality.
“If we want all California children to have a chance to succeed in school, we need to make sure that the neediest children get high-quality preschool,” Senator Steinberg said. “SB 1629 will create the roadmap for transforming our preschool programs into the high-quality experience our children deserve.”
This is critical because we know that children who attend high-quality programs are more likely to perform better on standardized reading and math tests. They’re less likely to be placed in special education or held back a grade.
These bills lay the groundwork for investments in high-quality preschool once new funds become available – and for a future when all of California’s low-income children have access to high-quality preschool that gets them ready to learn and succeed.
Catherine Atkin is president of Preschool California, a nonprofit advocacy organization working to increase access to high-quality preschool for all of California’s children, starting with those who need it most.