California Democrats Demanding Free Preschool


Once again liberal Democrats in California are tossing the word “free” around even though when it comes to government programs, nothing is truly “free.” Despite, as Governor Jerry Brown has described it, California’s “wall of debt” the Democrats are demanding that all four-year-olds be provided with free preschool at a cost of 1.5 billion to taxpayers and the bill will be heard by the Senate Education Committee today. When it comes to social programs, California Democrats are addicted to fuzzy math and 1.5 billion is the antithesis of “free.”

Soon to retire California Senate President Pro Tem Darrel Steinberg, is on a mission to push the preschool proposal through and views it as “key to his legacy.” Steinberg claims that low-income children under the age of five are suffering from an education gap that “carries into kindergarten.” He further states that the four-year-old children who are unable to attend preschool know “30 million” less words than their more advantaged peers who do have the opportunity to attend preschool.

Not taken into account in this equation is the academic state of children who, by the choice of their parents, do not attend preschool but rather remain in the home environment until they are mandated to attend school. Steinberg does not remark on whether this demographic also suffers from the word gap discrepancy regardless of economic class.

Parents who choose not to send their children to preschool might disagree with Steinberg’s assessment that their child is at an academic disadvantage. These parents may prefer to teach their children at home or even simply allow them to spend their fourth year of life playing and exploring in an unstructured and unpressured environment.

Governor Brown has expressed his concerns regarding the proposal. He has taken a relatively more centrist approach to budgetary policy than his liberal and progressive cohorts and perhaps he would prefer to keep 1.5 billion in the state coffers rather than invest it in yet another social program.

In its initial phase of addressing the demographic of children who turned five after the kindergarten cutoff date, the proposal would add approximately 300 million to the cost of education in the fiscal year 2015-2016 alone. By the time the “universal preschool” program is fully implemented in the fiscal year 2019-2020, the cost of including four-year-olds in the equation would reach the 1.5 billion mark.

Senator Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) has also expressed his concerns over the free preschool proposal, especially in light of the potential tax raises that would likely be necessitated by such a large fiscal investment. Huff says that it has been only two years since the Democrats and Governor Brown “convinced Californians to raise taxes” because of budget shortfalls. Thus, Huff questions the advisability of spending additional billions “on a new program.”

Currently the federal government does provide subsidies for early education for very low-income families. In fact, in 2013 President Obama proposed spending 75 billion over ten years to provide further access to preschool for this income bracket. Although Obama’s proposal did not receive congressional approval, the existing subsides are still in place. However, these subsidies do not apply to middle-class families and this demographic is clearly the target of Steinberg’s proposal.

Even though Governor Brown has given his verbal support on making education a top priority in California, he has also expressed reluctance to invest in the early education demographic as evidenced by his proposed budget for 2014-2015, which did not include funding for preschool education. Democrats with a progressive agenda may find that their demands for free “universal” preschool are not going to be met with enthusiasm by a governor dealing with a state already fiscally challenged with a “wall of debt.”

Opinion By Alana Marie Burke
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The New York Times
California Senate

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