SCHOOLS ARE EAGER FOR NEWSOM’S EARLY EDUCATION FUNDING
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.
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.