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Cross-posted at We Are Not Damaged Goods.

The National Institute for Early Education Research released a study on Thursday saying that it expects the State of California would get back $2.78 for every $1 invested in its potential universal preschool program.

California's Proposition 82 will be voted upon in June. If the proposal goes through, it will create an annual, universal preschool program open to all four-year-olds...

According to
The measure would require preschool teachers to obtain teaching credentials and be paid at rates comparable to public school teachers. The state superintendent of public instruction would oversee the curriculum.

The program will cost $2.4 billion annually. To pay for the program (this, I think, is the best part) there will be a 1.7 percent increase on individual incomes over $400,000 and couples' incomes over $800,000.

Without getting into the pros and cons of the Proposition 82 (critics feel the money could be better used in "small-scale, intensive intervention programs for low-income and minority children"), I feel that this is exactly the type of program that our generation needs to champion. This program isn't about not leaving children behind. This program is about giving them a head-start. Even if you think the money could be spent on a better kind of program, it's hard to argue that measures like these are at least a step in the right direction. It's a program that determines to give an equal educational opportunity to all at the most crucial time in any education: the beginning.

My parents had the foresight to enroll me in preschool for two years, from the age of three to five. I am convinced that preschool layed the proverbial groundwork for the rest of my educational life. In preschool, children don't just learn about counting or the alphabet. They learn how to behave in school, and how to pay attention. They learn to enjoy the company of other kids. Basically, they learn to be social beings.

I have this fuzzy memory of my first day in kindergarten. It was the most exciting day of my tiny life. Holding my mother's hand, I bounced into the little schoolhouse, proudly sporting my brand-new Coca-Cola backpack and Super Mario Bros. lunchbox (complete with Thermos). I couldn't wait to go to "real school" like my two older brothers. My teacher, Mrs. Englebrecht, met us at the door with a smile. My mother gave me a quick kiss before letting me go off on my own.

Mrs. Englebrecht showed me to my seat, then went back to the door to meet the next kid.  I looked around at all the new faces.

Every single one of them was crying. I was confused. Didn't they understand that this was the greatest thing to ever happen to us?

They weren't as prepared as I was. Preschool had given me one simple advantage over the other kids: confidence. I was comfortable being in new places without my mom and dad. For the others, that day was probably their first time away from their parents. No wonder they were crying.

This preparedness for school was no more important on that first day of kindergarten than it was thirteen years later, when I graduated tenth in a senior class of 500-plus in 2002.

We have all grown up in an preposterously unequal educational system. If we ever wish to correct these inequities, we must begin at the root. If we can't give all kids an equal educational opportunity once they arrive in elementary school, middle school, or high school; then I think the least we can do is give them this one year.

I'll be sure to keep an eye on how this turns out.

Originally posted to willynast on Sat May 20, 2006 at 03:50 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (11+ / 0-)

    I don't normally do the tip jar, but this is something I feel pretty strongly about, so I hope you enjoyed reading it!

  •  Gov. Blagojevich wants to do (3+ / 0-)

    universal preschool here in Illinois as well...I think it's an absolutely excellent idea:)

    I really hope this passes!!

  •  The most important reason (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rjo, makeitstop, mariachi mama, willynast

    and this is one you left out - is that, in CA especially, there are very high numbers of ESL kids entering kindergarten. Because of NCLB and because of the increased jockeying for enrollment between public and private schools, there is an increased focus on test scores. Many (most?) kindergartens in LAUSD have switched to full-day programs. One reason is because so many kids need to extra in-class time just to get comfortable with English. Since their parents don't speak it at home, then the more time they spend in class, the better their English comprehension.

    So... the next step is to push these ESL kids into the English language BEFORE they get into kindergarten. Then, by the time the reach K-level, they will actually be able to learn the subjects they need in later elementary years.

    This is a very real issue in the CA school systems. And, I too, hope it passes.

    •  Thanks for the commentary... (0+ / 0-)

      Very interesting.  I can see this being an issue in many of the border states.  Hell, I can see it being an issue in my howetown in Illinois.

      (I hope this doesn't double-post... I left a reply earlier but it looks like it got lost...)

      •  I've seen it first hand in Los Angeles (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        philgoblue, rjo, willynast

        I've run the board of a pre-school for two years and I've had two kids in LAUSD kindergartens (and two more en route).  

        This is a very real issue.

        I'm guessing that the reason Blago is fighting for it in IL is because his kids also go to Chicago public school there and that there is a large immigrant, ESL community there. He's seen it first-hand as well.

        Sadly - a diary like this on an issue that is so important, doesn't get much play here. However, there are a handful (or more) of Kossacks who value this issue.

        I keep meaning to diary something about prop 82 before the next election.

    •  Yes!! (0+ / 0-)

      language development is #1 with learning to read.

      No matter how I try to put you down, I still carry you around. -- Steve Earle

      by zoots dream gearle on Sat May 20, 2006 at 04:49:04 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  ESL preschoolers learning English is pretty much (0+ / 0-)

      a non-issue, since they are so well equipped to learn language that they can generally learn very understandable English just from exposure to television.  However, they don't have the early childhood learning experiences that other kids have, and are often in care situations that aren't great, since their parents often have to work long hours and can't afford to put their kids in high-quality daycare.

      •  a non-issue? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Maybe you misunderstood or maybe I wasn't clear enough.

        Yes - kids can learn a new language with more ease than adults.

        The problem is that until they learn English, they can't learn other subjects at the same speed as English speakers.

        My daughter's kindergarten (in LAUSD) is very mixed - and I'd say 30% have parents do not speak English as a first language. At least one parent I see every day speaks almost no English at all - her son was having the hardest time in class (where I have volunteered) not because he wasn't smart (he is) but because he simply could not say his ABCs or count from 1-20 in English. A year of pre-K would have helped him immensely.

        •  My point is that many preschoolers will pick up (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          zoots dream gearle

          English simply by virtue of living in this country.  I tutor adult ESL students, and many of their young children (three or four years old) are able to translate for them using only the English they learned from television. I agree with you about counting and letter recognition, but I would include those in early childhood learning experiences.  They are the kind of skills that all kids who live at or near poverty tend not to learn at home.

          •  asdf (0+ / 0-)

            They are the kind of skills that all kids who live at or near poverty tend not to learn at home.

            So true.  So very sad and true.

            No matter how I try to put you down, I still carry you around. -- Steve Earle

            by zoots dream gearle on Sat May 20, 2006 at 05:36:50 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Yeah but... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            It's not a matter of will they learn English, but a matter of what aren't they learning in the process. I'm not disagreeing with much of what you're writing, but my experiences watching and interacting with ESL kids on my dauighters' classes is more specific.

            When a K teacher asks Ali what word starts with the letter "Z" and Ali can't answer because a) he doesn't really understand his teacher's question, and b) because he doesn't know English well enough to know the "zebra" starts with "Z", and c) because he refers to the letter "Z" as "zed", then the result is that Ali is immediately viewed as "dumb" by the teacher and the other kids. Now, a perceptive teacher will notice this and help, but that's not always the case (she probably won't even realize that "zed" is "z"). Now - just by virtue of the fact that Ali didn't get the basics at home and wasn't given the option of pre-K - he's already behind the curve in elementary school.

            Universal pre-K can help level the playing field for these kids AND help K teachers advance their levels of learning rather than be held back by having a class of kids that don't even understand what they are saying.

  •  My problem (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Even if you think the money could be spent on a better kind of program, it's hard to argue that measures like these are at least a step in the right direction.

    It's an extremely expensive step though, regardless of the direction.

    I'm a huge backer of preschool (my younger son is currently attending), but according to my voter guide, currently about 62 percent of 4 year olds already attend preschool, and this could raise it to perhaps 80 percent, according to the Legislative Analyst's Office.

    I'd rather see the money go toward children and families who really need it.  Why should we subsidize people like me who can already afford preschool, and are already paying for it?

    If we raise $2.4 billion for education there are a lot of places I'd like to see it go.  Some portion for preschool for families who need it, absolutely.  But I'd prefer to see the rest in places that aren't already being paid for, like PE and art teachers for K-12 education.

    •  I agree, (0+ / 0-)

      and it seems to me that an increadibly simple solution would be financing an expansion of expand Head Start.  

      •  The guy who started HeadStart (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        supports Prop. 82

        Besides - isn't HeadStart a national program? This is CA only.

        •  Head Start is a national program, but I don't (0+ / 0-)

          see why California couldn't provide additional subsidies so they could extend their services.  It seems to me that supporting an insititution that has a history of success in targeting at-risk preschoolers is way more efficient than starting a program from scratch.

          •  Teaching credentials mandatory... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            philgoblue, rjo

            Something else to consider in favor of this plan: the CNN article mentioned that although, yes, many children already attend preschool, some have concerns about their overall quality.

            With this system, it sounds like the preschools would be regulated by the same people who regulate the public school system.  Also, as blockquoted above, the teacher would be required to obtain teaching credentials.

            As for the cost, it is expensive.  But at least it's the rich paying for it.

          •  I'm gonna side with Head Start's founder on this. (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            philgoblue, rjo, willynast

            Dr. Edward Zigler, the founder of Head Start, wrote this in the SacBee a couple of weeks ago.

            As one of the founders of Head Start, the 40-year-old federal program targeted to children in poverty, I fervently believe that publicly supported preschool available to all children is the best strategy to ensure everyone has the chance at a strong start in elementary school. It is without question the fairest policy, and it also is the only way to ensure that quality preschool is available to at-risk children who need it most.

            As to why Head Start isn't enough - remember that eligibility requirements for Head Start are income-based and state that participants must be at 100% of the federal poverty level.

            California has a large percentage of children who, by anyone's measure, are at high risk of not being ready for school. In cities with populations of more than 250,000, two-thirds of the children have at least one of the major risk factors associated with not being ready for school: living in poverty, in single-parent households, with a mother who has less than a high school education or in a household where English is not the primary language. California has 13 cities of such size, home to nearly one-third of the state's population. These demographic realities underline the need for a universal program rather than one targeted at poor children alone.

            •  Head Start does accept kids with (0+ / 0-)

              higher incomes if space is available, as well as setting aside 10% of their spots for kids with handicaps. Also, I would think Head Start would be one of the very few preschools (at least outside of very high-income areas) whose teachers would have the education required by the California bill. Since there is an institution with the history and track record already in place, why not expand it, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel?

              •  Again - I'll assume that the founder of HS (0+ / 0-)

                knows better than you or I.

                Put it this way - does Zigler's recommendation of Prop 82 mean nothing to you?  As the man who founded Head Start, I would think he has a little street cred.

              •  Reinvent the Wheel? (0+ / 0-)

                We've also got elementary schools.  Just add a few rooms and a few teachers.  All administration is in place.

                Democrats are the party of those who are working, those who have finished working, and those who want to work. -- Elizabeth Edwards

                by philgoblue on Sat May 20, 2006 at 06:39:18 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  No reinventing the wheel (0+ / 0-)

                  Prop 82 wants to make use of pre-existing preschools by making those programs eligible for funding if they elect to participate in Prop 82 .  

                  •  OK (0+ / 0-)

                    But in an ideal world, I just add them on to elementary schools, since this looks a little too much like vauchers (meaning privatization).

                    Democrats are the party of those who are working, those who have finished working, and those who want to work. -- Elizabeth Edwards

                    by philgoblue on Sat May 20, 2006 at 07:23:47 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  In Los Angeles (0+ / 0-)

                      the public schools are already too overcrowded. There's no way they could handle the numbers of pre-K kids that would descend on the schools.

                      I understand the voucher concern - but this isn't a public v. private question. The initial push behind this was Rob Reiner (whose First Five program has championed preschool in CA for several years).

    •  Good points (0+ / 0-)

      Yes, I'd also like to see more money going to other K-12 programs, but if the essential reason to have pre-K funding is for those ESL kids who DON'T already attend pre-K then, in the long run, it will help alleviate additional k-12 ESL program spending that is now sucking up elementary ed funding.

      Why should we subsidize people like me...

      It's only people like you if you are in the $400K to $800K + range.  

      Also - and I don't know the answer off the top of my head - it doesn't mean ALL pre-K programs will be free. Only that there will be subsidized pre-K programs for those who cannot afford.

    •  One reason to do a universal program is (4+ / 0-)

      to NOT label the kids or the program.  Once a program is means tested, it divides people and this division causes resentment and jealousy.  This is why social security is so hard to kill.  It belongs to everyone.   It isn't a welfare program for "those" people; and why do I, yadda, yadda - you know the routine.  Besides, the dairy said they are raising taxes on people who make 400K and couples at 800K to pay for this.  So people who can afford to pay for it ARE paying for it.  

      "Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid, it is true that most stupid people are conservative." John Stuart Mill

      by dkmich on Sat May 20, 2006 at 04:33:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Genius (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        dkmich, makeitstop, willynast

        dk you are so right, this needs to be stressed more among Democrats.  Patriotic programs sell, welfare doesn't.

        Democrats are the party of those who are working, those who have finished working, and those who want to work. -- Elizabeth Edwards

        by philgoblue on Sat May 20, 2006 at 04:40:53 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Patriotic Programs... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          dkmich, Heiuan

          Someone just left an excellent comment at my blog pointing me in the direction of this article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune about major corporations in Minnesota (Cargill, 3M, Target) donating major amounts of money to early learning programs on the basis that it's a good business investment.

          How's that for a sell to the Republicans?  Hey!  Equal educational opportunities are good for YOUR business!

        •  You are comparing local vs. federal. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Local's have a really hard time, particularly when the fed cuts revenue sharing, which is what this administration had done - bit time.   I think we go back to the common good.  It means we all pay a fair share of taxes to support the common good.  If not, why should my Michigan federal tax dollars should be used to rebuild NOLA?  If rebuilding NOLA was only the responsibility of the local/state, they couldn't afford it either.

          "Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid, it is true that most stupid people are conservative." John Stuart Mill

          by dkmich on Sun May 21, 2006 at 03:44:45 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Ronald Reagan's Welfare Queen!!! (0+ / 0-)

          Remember her wrapped in her mink coat and driving a Cadilac to pick up her welfare check???  The Reagan Democrats ate this one up.  Here they were working their asses off, while this welfare person was living the good life.  People measure.  What is your slice of pie bigger than mine??  Why do I have to pay for your __?  Means testing is not a good way to go when you are addressing common needs and common goals for the common good.  

          Given that our corporations led "mothers" out of the homes and into the work place to fix their labor shortages; and given that many children are in child care anyway, and given that many children are either gifted and talented or special needs, we might as well start school earlier.  Michigan wanted to; but with the systemic dismantling of unions and manufcaturing, we are in as more trouble here than NOLA.

          "Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid, it is true that most stupid people are conservative." John Stuart Mill

          by dkmich on Sun May 21, 2006 at 03:52:07 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  I don't think spending more money than is (1+ / 0-)

        necessary is a winning strategy.  Not to harp on Head Start, but they have been a low-income preschool option that has been around for over 30 years.  Making a program universal doesn't mean that it stays in the budget forever.  A city close to where I live just cut all day kindergarten, because they simply can't afford it.  

  •  Totally Agree (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dannyinla, willynast

    This would be a great program for national candidates to run on.

    I have an old diary on this topic -- Expanding Kindergarten as part of a Democratic New Ideas Agenda:

    I've always suggested that Democrats get elected when they put forth domestic programs which help all Americans (see Social Security).  A winning candidate needs charisma, a slogan, two or three key issues, and a few programs for each issue that proves that they're not just spinning BS but have actual ideas that can improve America.  Almost all polls show Americans agree with us on economics, education, social security, etc, so we ought to emphasize those issues.

    Lately, in my opinion, we've become too much of an ABB Party, merely wanting to undo Bush's catastrophe.  While this is necessary, we need to overcome the notion that we're a party out of new ideas.  So here are some:

    We ought to run on making kindergarten for 5 year olds all day and making pre-kindergarten for 4 year olds free and part of the public school system.  Essentially, we'd be making Head Start available to all American kids.

    From Maria Montessori to today's scholars, researchers have found that "A child's quality of life and contributions to society can be traced back to development in the first five years of life. By age 5, 90% of a child's core brain structure has formed, and during these years there is tremendous growth in cognition, language, motor skills, adaptive skills, and social-emotional development. "

    For More Information:
    The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) report ranks Oklahoma #1 in high standards and access to Pre-Kindergarten. Currently, 30,180 four-year-old children in Oklahoma are attending voluntary Pre-K classes with teachers that have a bachelor's degree and are early childhood certified.

    There's more at

    Oklahoma apparently has a new program of 4-year old Kindergarten that is working great.

    Also see my Mother's Day Manifesto and Democratic Agenda diary:

    Democrats are the party of those who are working, those who have finished working, and those who want to work. -- Elizabeth Edwards

    by philgoblue on Sat May 20, 2006 at 04:27:38 PM PDT

    •  Montessori... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Excellent diary, there!

      I like what you said about "merely wanting to undo Bush's catastrophe."  

      As I was writing this diary, I was thinking to myself, "Man, it sure is nice not to be blogging about Karl Rove or the Iraqi insurgency for once."

      Not that those things AREN'T important, but there are other equally pressing issues.

      Second, the Montessori schools are a very interesting case.  I have a good friend who attended one as a child and now teaches there.  In addition to this program, I wouldn't mind seeing a little funding go into the research of some of these "alternative" teaching methods and see if we can't get them some wider usage.

  •  Are any of you teachers? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dannyinla, Friend of the court

    Just wondering.  

    I am an elementary teacher. I have spent most years teaching first grade, but I have also taught preschool, K-6 music, and Kindergarten.

    There are many things that you can tell when school starts...among them...

    1.  Which children were read to
    1.  Which children were talked to
    1.  Which children were worked with (meaning drilled with educational activities, etc.)

    And of course, which children attended preschool.  

    The first two are by far the most important, however, I am a huge advocate for preschool.  In fact, I think it would be wonderful if something could be started with parents, even before that.  Most people do not realize how important it is to read and talk to children.  Nursery Rhymes?  You wouldn't believe how many kids have never heard of them.  

    Kindergarten and First Grade (as well as others, but these are the grade levels that I have I taught the most and feel I can speak for with expertise) are changing at a very rapid pace.  What was expected of first grade students not that long ago, is now expected of kindergarten students.  And that just bumps everything up a notch.  I'm not complaining, I'm just stating the facts, m'am.  

    Preschool for all is exceptionally good.  Money?  Funding?  I'm sure I have no idea.  :-)

    No matter how I try to put you down, I still carry you around. -- Steve Earle

    by zoots dream gearle on Sat May 20, 2006 at 04:46:54 PM PDT

    •  Important points. (0+ / 0-)

      You're right that what was once taught in 1st grade is now taught in K. My oldest daughter was in K three years and my youngest is there now - there are greater demands (specifically in math) now than three years ago. My youngest also is in a full-day program, my eldest was in a half-day program.

      I have been very involved in my kids' elementary education and spent three years on the board of their pre-school (two years as president, one as VP) so all of my comments are based on empirical data.

      One factor that your otherwise excellent post misses is the ESL factor, which is huge in the LA school system. Your three points are a great yardstick for English-speakers, but don't apply to recent immigrants. The one boy I am thinking of specifically (who I mentioned above) is a recent Pakistani immigrant. I have little doubt that he was talked to, read to, and worked with. The downside is that all these things were done in his native language and not English.

      PS - love that Steve Earle tagline - it made me go put on "I Feel Alright"

    •  Hate To Rain On the Parade (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      rjo, ailanthus

      What was expected of first grade students not that long ago, is now expected of kindergarten students.

      Is anything being gained by pushing the school experience earlier and earlier into children's lives? Has public education gotten better over the last few decades as this has occured (while recess and physical education have also been curtailed so as to concentrate on the all important schooling)?

      Lots and lots of folks are for it, but a number of studies have shown that the head start of pre-schooled kids wears off by 3rd grade (i.e., they're ahead for the first couple of years, but it recedes over time). Parents TV watching habits are probably a far greater predictor of performance than pre-school attendance.

      Finland doesn't start mandatory school until age seven and last I heard they had a functioning state.

      •  Don't get me started on tv! n/t (0+ / 0-)

        No matter how I try to put you down, I still carry you around. -- Steve Earle

        by zoots dream gearle on Sat May 20, 2006 at 07:14:53 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  I'm no expert on Finland's school system... (0+ / 0-)

        but I'm pretty sure they don't have massive numbers of kids entering who cannot speak Finnish. And those aren't proficient in the native language are those at highest risk - ie: in L.A., children of recent immigrants.

        As for pushing kids at an early age - it's a constant tug-of-war. People complain that US grads are falling behind the rerst of the world, but then when the public schools try to make up the difference they are slapped down.

        I'm anti-NCLB and I don't believe that an overemphasis on testing is the answer, but there has to be some compromise.

        •  The Question Is (0+ / 0-)

          How are they trying to make up the difference? Or are they simply amplifying the problems that created the gap in the first place?

          For example, most of Europe (outside of Britain) introduces academics later, test less, emphasize physical education more (though they don't have school sports, which they leave to private athletic clubs), and end up with better results, though frankly the whole results-worship is creepy in its own right.

          Kids who enjoy learning will learn. But school can do a good job of teaching a kid to hate learning.

          And I wouldn't make assumptions about non-Finnish students. Most European countries take in a significant number of political refugees (mostly African) and economic migrants (mostly from eastern Europe).

          •  Unfair Comparison? (0+ / 0-)

            I don't know if it's entirely fair to equate our school system to the Fins... I mean, before we just say, "Hey the Fins don't start schooling their children until age 7, so we shouldn't either" we should consider what exists in their society that allows for the later start that might not exist in our country (i.e., maybe both parents are less likely to work, so parents do a lot more of the early "schooling").

            But school can do a good job of teaching a kid to hate learning.

            I agree here, which is why I am against the NCLB Act, and why I mentioned above that I'd like to see some research go into "alternative" teaching methods.

            This, in my mind, is just one piece of possible education reform.  I would like to see my generation rethink a lot of the educational status quo, including how we teach our kids.

            •  Hey (0+ / 0-)

              As an agnostic with buddhist tendencies currently homeschooling three kids -- which, in a very zen way, is often more about staying out of the way of the learning, as opposed to teaching the student -- I'm all for challenging the status quo.

      •  I've heard great things (0+ / 0-)
        about the Finnish schools and their attitude towards children in general. But then they aren't driven by the competitve insanity that fuels a superpower. Hah. They may even have retained the sense that life is to be enjoyed. All the anxiety about education in this country seems less concerned with asking are the kids happy, than with asking are they measuring up?
  •  30 years teaching preschool (4+ / 0-)
    The kindergarten teachers all know which kids have been through our program because they're the ones who aren't afraid to express themselves. Lifetime friendships get established there, often among the parents as well as the kids. It's the last best chance to give kids the clue that there's something more to life than jumping through hoops to please the adults. Although I suppose the more the state gets involved the more they'll figure out a way to steamroll the fun out it, tie the funding to testing of some sort, annex it to the academic factory.
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