Scaled-Back Preschool Bill Advances in California Legislature
By Jennifer Chaussee
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A bill to offer free preschool to 4-year-olds from low-income California families advanced in the state legislature on Thursday, a scaled-down version of a broader proposal that would have provided for universal public pre-kindergarten.
State Democrats scaled back a $2.5 billion proposal for universal pre-kindergarten that had faced opposition from Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat who has charted a moderate fiscal course despite pressure from some within his party to use a projected budget surplus to raise spending on social services.
“Not one K-12 reform can address the reality that the achievement gap is formed before children arrive in kindergarten. At age 5, low-income children are more than two years behind in language development,” said Darrell Steinberg, the state Senate’s top Democrat.
“Children with low reading skills are 60 percent more likely to drop out of school,” said Steinberg, who is leaving office at the end of the year and had made the preschool plan his top legislative effort this year.
Steinberg’s revised proposal, called the “Fair Start” bill, would give free preschool to children whose families make less than twice the federal poverty level, using funds that had been earmarked for children of all incomes who turn 5 too late in the year to start kindergarten.
The plan, which heads to the lower house on a 26-10 vote, would cost about $1.3 billion.