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California Awaits Obama’s Pre-K Funding Specifics

Brianna Sacks | June 12, 2013

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Preschoolers at the San Jose public library/Flickr

Preschoolers at the San Jose public library/Flickr

California is slated to receive the most funding of any state in the country under President Obama’s “Preschool For All” proposal — about $334 million for the first year.

However, early education centers in Los Angeles worry that pre-schoolers who need subsidized full-day programs the most may still miss out on a quality early education.

Depending on how flexible the state can be with the new funding, districts like Los Angeles, which serve primarily low and moderate-income preschoolers, may continue to struggle from a lack of resources for high-quality full-day pre-K programs.

And of course the President’s multi-billion dollar proposal first has to make it through a deeply divided Congress.

While The Department of Education estimates California could serve 40,000 low and moderate-income preschoolers in the first year of the proposed program, Laure Escobedo of the Los Angeles County Office of Childcare says it all depends on how the funding will be used.

“We just completed our needs assessment [for L.A. County] and we have a huge gap for preschool age kids from low-income working families who need a full day or full year program,” said Escobedo.

Currently, 21 percent of children in Los Angeles who have a parent at home and are in need of a federally subsidized half-day program cannot get in.

But that is not the major problem for Los Angeles.

Instead, there is an overwhelming need for full-day Pre-K programs that serve low-income families with two working parents.

“Most low-income preschoolers who need federally subsidized full-day early childhood education programs don’t have a spot,” Escobedo explained. “We’re short about 53 percent.”

In the past, the majority of early childhood education funding has gone to half-day programs, which puts quite a strain on low-income families who rely on two incomes.

“The issue for Los Angeles is they can give us all the money they can, but if it’s only for half –day preschool programs we won’t be addressing the most critical need,” said Escobedo.

Obama’s “Preschool for All” proposal is the first of its kind, a whole new stream of federal funding with its own rules and requirements that still have not been fully ironed out.

“We have no idea where the money will go when it gets to California,” said Deborah Kong with Early Edge California, an education advocacy group.

Like Kong, the California Department of Education is also waiting to see exactly how the millions can be used if Congress approves Obama’s early education initiatives.

While more preschool children will be served throughout California and especially in Los Angeles, Escobedo worries that the neediest preschoolers, those who do not have access to full day programs, will remain underserved.

Though with a promised $75 billion over the next 10 years, there is no doubt that struggling states like California can only benefit from additional funding.

“We really stand to gain with this, especially since our childcare and development programs have been cut by about $1 billion since 2008,” said Kong. “We are very excited because this is the biggest commitment from a president in history.”

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