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Mercury News editorial: Don’t cut funding for kindergarten, preschool

01.31.2012 | San Jose Mercury News


California’s
preschool and kindergarten set are targeted to take some of the biggest
hits to funding in the state budget proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown. The
governor should withdraw his plan before it undercuts the critical years
of education for some of California’s most vulnerable children.

Almost
one-fifth of the $4 billion in state program cuts Brown has proposed
would come from early childhood education — child care, preschool and
the new transitional kindergarten scheduled to start in the fall. These
programs should be among the state’s highest priorities. Children are
our most precious resource, and their success paves the way for
California’s economy to grow and prosper.

Brown would save $223
million by not funding this year’s transitional kindergarten, a new
program intended to place the youngest children in the fall into a
preparatory program rather than the full-fledged kindergarten. The
program is badly needed to prepare “young 5s” for today’s rigorous
kindergarten classrooms that teachers say is far more demanding than it
was generations ago.

The governor also proposes cutting another
$517 million from child care and preschool funding that goes mostly to
the kids of low-income working families. This would force 62,000
youngsters, many from families working to stay off welfare, from the
preschools that are their lifelines to succeeding in school. These
programs have already lost 26 percent of their state funding since 2008, and the proposed new reductions would bring that budget cut to 42 percent since then.

Shortchanging
any of these programs will invite problems, and higher costs, down the
road. Studies have shown that children who attend kindergarten readiness
programs are more likely to do well in school and in college, and less
likely to need expensive special education.

The transitional
kindergarten program is part of the 2010 Kindergarten Readiness Act
written by Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, which changed the
kindergarten entry date so that children must turn 5 by Sept. 1, rather
than Dec. 2. California was one of a handful of states that still had a
cutoff date in December. Starting transitional kindergarten would not
increase the state’s cost this year, because the funding that schools
received for young 5s in kindergarten last year could be switched to pay
for the new youngsters in the transitional class this year.

Without
transitional kindergarten, thousands of young 5-year-olds could be
locked out of classrooms this fall, without access to the preparatory
program. Parents are in an uproar and scrambling to find a backup plan
while school districts agonize over what they will do, as Mercury News
reporter Sharon Noguchi reported last week.

Also cutting state
subsidies for child care and preschool programs would amount to a double
whammy for youngsters coming from low-income working families. If those
children are shut out of kindergarten, they also could lose access to
preschool and child care subsidized by the state. Most of their parents
can’t pay for preschool without help, setting up their kids to enter
kindergarten without any preparation to prevent them from floundering.

If
Brown considered these programs to be the simplest targets for cuts, he
should reconsider. Parents, teachers and schools should fight this
proposal until it dies.

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