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California Fight for Free Preschool Passes First Hurdle

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO – A proposal to offer free preschool to all California four-year-olds passed its first legislative hurdle on with support from Democrats but facing skepticism from Governor Jerry Brown and some educators that could doom its chances this year.

The $1.5 billion program is being pushed hard by the state senate’s Democratic leader, Darrell Steinberg, who is leaving office at the end of this year and views it as key to his legacy in the most populous U.S. state.

“Thirty million words – that’s the gap between the number of words heard by low-income children and their middle- and upper-income peers,” Steinberg told the senate education committee. “That number astounds me. They are behind before they even get started in their formal schooling.”

The bill, which passed the senate education committee, comes as a call for universal pre-K is gaining traction around the country. Lawmakers in New York state included $300 million for public preschool programs there, and Oklahoma also offers them.
The idea is favored by many education advocates, who say children whose parents cannot afford preschool fall behind quickly once they get to kindergarten, and many never catch up.

The California proposal let districts offer pre-K in public schools or pay private operators.

The plan would roll out gradually over five years, starting with children with January birthdays and gradually expanding. Children would not be required to attend.
The proposal goes next to the senate’s appropriations committee.

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