California Governor-Elect Kicks Off 2019 With Early Childhood Spending Proposal

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California’s new governor wants to spend nearly $2 billion more on kindergarten and pre-K programs:

The governor-elect will propose a $750-million boost to kindergarten funding, aimed at expanding facilities to allow full-day programs. A number of school districts offer only part-day programs, leaving many low-income families to skip enrolling their children due to kindergarten classes that end in the middle of the workday….Close behind in total cost is a budget proposal by Newsom to help train child-care workers and expand local facilities already subsidized by the state, as well as those serving parents who attend state colleges and universities.

….An expansion of prekindergarten programs would be phased in over three years at a cost of $125 million in the first year. The multiyear rollout would, according to the budget overview, “ensure the system can plan for the increase in capacity.”…Another $200 million of the proposal would be earmarked for programs that provide home visits to expectant parents from limited-income families and programs that provide healthcare screenings for young children.

Good for him. But the tough part is coming next. California’s finances are in good shape, and we have a big reserve fund thanks to the relatively tight-fisted spending policies of Jerry Brown over the past eight years. Needless to say, there’s huge pressure to spend the money in this reserve fund, and it probably makes sense to do a bit of that. But not a lot. It is, after all, a reserve fund, designed to help us weather a couple of years of recession without huge cutbacks. That recession is coming sometime in the next year or two, and we’ll need the money then.

But if we’re going to spend a bit of it, early childhood programs should be near the top of our list. Low-income families have a pretty miserable time in the California educational system, and they need a break. Full-day kindergarten is the absolute minimum we should offer everyone, and a year of pre-K is close behind. This is a good start for 2019.

POSTSCRIPT: If you’re curious about what a well-run pre-K program can do, even in a poor, deep-red state, check out Kiera Butler’s profile of Alabama’s program in our current issue.

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