SCHOOLS ARE EA­GER FOR NEW­SOM’S EARLY ED­U­CA­TION FUND­ING

The Tribune (SLO) (Sunday) - - Local - BY ALEK­SAN­DRA AP­PLE­TON aap­ple­[email protected]­nobee.com Alek­san­dra Ap­ple­ton: 559-341-3747, Aleks Ap­ple­ton

Freshly sworn-in Gov. Gavin New­som pro­posed a nearly $2 bil­lion plan to ex­pand early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion in Cal­i­for­nia, with $1.5 bil­lion com­ing from a one-time gen­eral fund ex­pen­di­ture that some say is a pre­car­i­ous way to fund ed­u­ca­tion.

The money would be used to sub­si­dize child care fa­cil­i­ties and ex­pand full-day kinder­garten, as well as fund in-home post­na­tal vis­its for low-in­come moth­ers, a pro­gram com­monly found in Euro­pean coun­tries.

New re­search from the Berke­ley Early Child­hood Think Tank says it’s pos­si­ble to fi­nance New­som’s lofti­est goals – just not in the way the gov­er­nor has pro­posed.

Re­searcher Bruce Fuller says that rather than a one-time cash in­fu­sion, the group would pre­fer to see long-term in­vest­ments tied to ex­ist­ing fund­ing mech­a­nisms that wouldn’t be at the mercy of a fu­ture eco­nomic down­swing.

“It’s bet­ter to put in stable fi­nanc­ing than pro­pose one­time fund­ing for a scat­tered set of pro­grams,” Fuller said. “There are siz­able short­falls in how many fam­i­lies have ac­cess to high-qual­ity child­care. The gov­er­nor has raised hope that he can solve this. But it could end up be­ing a dis­ap­point- ment.”

The think tank’s pro­posal has four core sug­ges­tions, in­clud­ing ex­pand­ing tran­si­tional kinder­garten to some 50,000 stu­dents and ty­ing their at­ten­dance to the Propo­si­tion 98 fund­ing guar­an­tee. Prop. 98 al­lo­cates money for Cal­i­for­nia schools ad­justed on the ba­sis of stu­dent en­roll­ment. In re­cent years, en­roll­ment has de­clined, leav­ing wor­ries about a fund­ing short­fall.

Fuller said in­clud­ing more 4-year-olds would gen­er­ate money for ed­u­ca­tion and stave off the short­fall while al­low­ing more stu­dents to find place­ments in high-qual­ity pro­grams. The think tank pre­vi­ously found that Fresno County not only has a short­age of day­care and preschool spots, but that the San Joaquin Val­ley’s grow­ing birth rate is likely to ex­ac­er­bate the prob­lem.

“Many of these ini­tia­tives are af­ford­able given our bud­get, but we need to be pru­dent. We should be build­ing out the in­fra­struc­ture to fund these pro­grams long-term,” Fuller said. “The sur­plus won’t last for­ever.”

Ken Kap­phahn, a fis­cal and pol­icy an­a­lyst with the Leg­isla­tive An­a­lyst’s Of­fice, said that while the state would have to fund the ex­pan­sion of pro­grams for 4-year-olds, en­rolling an ad­di­tional 50,000 stu­dents could mean earn­ing ad­di­tional money while also re­set­ting the clock on the fund­ing short­fall, which kicks in af­ter two years of en­roll­ment de­cline.

But Steve Ward, leg­isla­tive an­a­lyst for Clo­vis Uni­fied, says he wor­ries that school dis­tricts al­ready fac­ing cuts would end up re­spon­si­ble for ed­u­cat­ing ad­di­tional stu­dents when they sim­ply can­not af­ford it. Con­vinc­ing the Leg­is­la­ture to of­fer more than the min­i­mum fund­ing guar­an­tee would be one way to pay for preschool and K-12 ed­u­ca­tion.

New­som’s bud­get pro­posal boosts fund­ing for schools beyond the min­i­mum amount re­quired by Prop. 98 in two ways.

He’s propos­ing to spend $3 bil­lion to help school dis­tricts cope with the ris­ing cost of fund­ing teacher pen­sions. That money would go to the Cal­i­for­nia State Teach­ers’ Re­tire­ment Sys­tem, free­ing up money at school dis­tricts to fund other pri­or­i­ties.

It also sets aside $576 mil­lion in one-time fund­ing for spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams.

Michele Cantwell-Co­pher, ad­min­is­tra­tor for early care and ed­u­ca­tion for the Of­fice of the Fresno County Su­per­in­ten­dent of Schools, said she’s re­as­sured that New­som is propos­ing one-time fund­ing, much of it to sup­port proven pro­grams, such as train­ing more teach­ers and ex­pand­ing full-day kinder­garten.

“Any­body who’s watch­ing the econ­omy now has no­ticed we seem to be head­ing for re­ces­sion. We should gen­tly ease peo­ple in to the idea in the face of our volatile eco­nomic sta­tus,” Co­pher said. “And once you see the in­vest­ment and its im­pact, there is in­spi­ra­tion to in­vest more.”

Co­pher said the $ 750 mil­lion al­lo­cated to full-day kinder­garten is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant to lower-in­come par­ents, many of whom of­ten don’t en­roll their chil­dren in par­tial-day kinder­garten be­cause they’re un­able to pick them up in the mid­dle of the work­day.

Other com­po­nents of the plan, which in­clude in-home vis­its for new par­ents, are al­ready in line with Fresno County’s Cra­dle to Ca­reer en­deav­ors, Co­pher said. Cra­dle to Ca­reer is a part­ner­ship of school dis­tricts, health care or­ga­ni­za­tions and oth­ers, whose pro­grams em­pha­size kinder­garten readi­ness and early lit­er­acy.

“As for how ready Fresno County is for ex­panded early learn­ing, I think you won’t find any re­sis­tance here,” Co­pher said.

ALEK­SAN­DRA AP­PLE­TON Fresno Bee file

A teacher works with chil­dren on their self-por­traits in Au­gust 2018, en­cour­ag­ing them to mix paint to de­ter­mine which color would suit them best at the Light­house for Chil­dren. Fresno County of­fi­cials agree that ex­pand­ing early ed­u­ca­tion and preschool is crit­i­cal to school suc­cess.

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