Nan Austin

July 17, 2013

On Campus: Preschool push holds hope for Central Valley

Federal push for preschool comes as local classes close, but early education seen as best hope for low income kids and English learners to catch up, which is the best hope for the valley's economic future.

On Campus

The latest on local schools and education

There’s a federal push for universal preschool just as some state preschool classrooms are closing.

Waterford Unified noted in closing its 24-child program this year that there were no other preschool options in the community for families making more than the Head Start income limit.

Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan held an online press conference focused on the administration’s proposal for a $75 billion early learning initiative to be paid for by raising cigarette taxes nearly a dollar a pack.

The hope is to help more kids start today’s fast-moving kindergarten classes ready to go instead of already behind.

“We’re going to take on these gaps, or we’re going to perpetuate them,” Duncan said, adding the proposal has strong support from military organizations, law enforcement and business.

Personal note: The first question he took on the national conference was mine. I asked how California’s transitional kindergarten program would fit into the federal preschool vision. “TK” serves 4-year-olds with fall birthdays and some 5-year-olds not yet rarin’ to read. Sadly, the Secretary didn’t seem to recognize the program, but he covered well. States will compete for funding using whatever systems they choose.

One of the most interesting notes from the Education Writers of America-sponsored event is that researchers increasingly see preschool as part of an age-3 to third grade span where kids have the best chance to change their stars.

Laura Bornfreund of the New America Foundation said 120 studies over 50 years document the gains made by high-quality preschools. The fade in scores sometimes seen as Head Start grads move up the grades she believes may be from lower-quality education in low income neighborhoods.

In any case, the push to “get out of the academic catch-up game,” as Duncan put it, is one civic leaders in the Central Valley see as critical to long term prosperity.

To that end, the Modesto Chamber of Commerce is hosting the third State of Education Forum — save the date — a breakfast meeting on Aug. 28.


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