“A Fair Start” Legislation for Universal Pre-Kindergarten, Preschool passes Senate Committee

April 09, 2014

(Sacramento) – With research clearly showing that high quality early childhood education leads to increased student achievement and stronger economic competitiveness in the future, two measures to give all California children a fair start through expanded pre-kindergarten and preschool have been approved today by the State Senate’s Education Committee.

The proposed “Kindergarten Readiness Act” to strengthen early language development and reduce the achievement gap for children entering their first year of school is supported by business and military leaders, law enforcement, parents groups and educators. SB 837 (Steinberg) would make one year of voluntary, high quality transitional kindergarten available to every four-year-old in California, expanding a current program for which only 25 percent of the state’s four-year-olds are eligible. A second measure, the “Strong Children, Strong Families Act” (SB 1123, Liu), would support increased full-day preschool for children from birth to age three.

“There’s a 30 million word gap in the number of words heard by low-income children versus their higher income peers by age three. Fast forward to age five and those kids are more than two years behind in language development.” said Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. “Without access to robust early childhood education that gap is carried into kindergarten and through no fault of their own, they are behind before they’ve even started school. The “Fair Start” package of bills will help the littlest Californians get the fair start they need.”

President Obama recently made early learning a national priority, declaring in his State of the Union address that “research shows one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high quality early education.” This morning, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan endorsed Steinberg’s Kindergarten Readiness Act via Twitter. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has also recently announced a plan to fund universal pre-kindergarten.

A 2010 study by Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman shows that every dollar invested in high quality early education generates seven dollars in returns. Those investment returns come in a number of areas, including savings from fewer grade retentions and special education placements, lower crime rates and higher lifetime earnings.

"Decades of research have shown that investing wisely and early in our young people is the best way to keep our kids in school and out of jail,” said Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones. “Quality early education can reduce California’s prison population by 13,000 each year and save the state over $1 billion annually in crime costs alone. By making voluntary transitional kindergarten available to all 4-year-olds, SB 837 will help get our state’s youth back on track, keep them out of trouble, and make our streets safer for everyone."

"The business community understands the value of an early investment," said David Rattray, senior vice president of education and workforce development for the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. "The Chamber is proud to take an active role in shaping the future workforce by co-sponsoring SB 837 – we want to promote investment in quality early education because it will lead to increases in high school graduation rates and college attendance along with decreasing crime and building a stronger economy and middle class."

Statewide, 67 percent of children in kindergarten through third grade are identified as low income, English learners or foster youth who need substantial extra support. The percentage of four-year-olds in that category is likely even higher. SB 837 not only makes transitional kindergarten available to all four-year-olds, it also improves the program with higher learning standards, and adult-child classroom ratio of ten-to-one, and more early education training for teachers and classroom aides.

“Support for investing in our youngest learners continues to grow across the nation and here in California with our legislative leaders' firm commitment to raising the quality of early learning for our children from birth through age 5,” said Deborah Kong, President of Early Edge California. “2014 is the year – the time is now, we can’t let this moment pass us by.”

Under SB 837, the program would be phased–in over five years to allow districts and communities to prepare and build capacity. Districts would also be allowed to contract with community-based providers who meet the quality standards outlined in the bill.

A California Department of Education fiscal analysis estimates that expansion of transitional kindergarten will cost an average of $300 million in additional Proposition 98 funding each year during the five-year phase-in period, for a total additional cost of $1.46 billion at full implementation in the 2019-20 school year. Helping to offset that cost are estimated annual savings of $1.1 billion through lower K-3 grade retention and special education costs, in addition to more than one billion dollars in longer term savings in the criminal justice system.

Attached please find a fact sheet for SB 837.

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