On March 25, 2005, actor Rob Reiner officially launched a new education initiative which is designed to insure that all California children receive pre-school. Under the "Pre-school for All" initiative, the voluntary program would offer a full year of preschool to all California 4-year-olds, provided mostly by local school districts. The initiative would boost the top tax rate on individuals earning more than $400,000 annually or married couples earning $800,000. This new tax rate would be in effect until 2010-11, when the measure would take full effect. The proposal qualified for the June primary ballot in January 2006. It has already generated significant controversy with strongly held views on both sides. Proponents believe that the initiative will ensure that all of California's children, including low income children, have access to quality preschool. However, the proposal has been criticized by those who question the effectiveness of collecting funds by raising taxes on the wealthy as well as other details of the plan.
In 1965, the federal government started Head Start, a preschool program for poor children across the country. This program along with Early Head Start (started in 1994) has provided free preschool to children whose families meet the low-income criteria. However, studies have found that many 2-5 year olds are not eligible for the program and consequently, many children do not attend preschool. California's state preschool program was created by the California state legislature in 1965. This program provides preschool for low-income children of families that earn less than $39,000 a year. The program was funded to provide preschool for approximately 100,000 children in 2004-05. Head Start funds for the same period covered approximately 59,000 preschool students. 2001 U.S. Census figures find that 49% of 3 and 4 year old Californians attended either private or public preschool. Currently, the state ranks 37th among the 50 states when it comes to total preschool enrollment.
In 1998, a California Department of Education task force issued the "Universal Preschool Task Force report" which declared that preschool is a necessity for California's children and that the state should work to make it possible for all 3 or 4-year-olds to attend preschool by 2008. Since then, many California education groups have pushed for universal preschool, whether at the local or state level. Individual counties and school districts have started free preschool programs. In 1998, the First 5 Commission was established by a statewide ballot measure. The Commission, dedicated to early childhood development and education, set up a network of offices across the state. Many county First 5 offices have worked to allocate funds to establish lowcost or free preschool access. In 2004, Rob Reiner and the California Teachers Association successfully qualified the Improving Classroom Education Act initiative for the ballot but withdrew it in April 2005 over concerns about voter confusion. In June 2005, the Legislature passed AB 56 which would have authorized a study and development plan for staffing a preschool system and possible costs for such a program. Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill when it came to his desk. He also vetoed AB 712, a similar bill which would have determined the cost of a universal preschool and a plan for developing teachers for such a program. Schwarzenegger came out against Prop. 82 on April 11, 2006, claiming that he is against tax increases. Both the front runners for the Democratic nomination, Phil Angelides and Steve Westly, say they support the proposition.
On June 15, 2005, Reiner, along with various labor and education groups, submitted thePreschool for All Act to the California Attorney General's Office for preparation of a circulating title and summary. The act is a constitutional amendment which would establish the right of parents to voluntarily enroll their four-year old children in free pre-school. The new law would be administered by California's Superintendent of Public Instruction and county school superintendents. The proposition would entail a new tax of 1.7% on individual incomes of individuals who make above $400,000. Couples who make above $800,000 would also be taxed at the 1.7% rate. The act would effect in the 2010-11 school year after several years of revenues. Overall, the act would raise $2.3 billion. The Act would require counties to prepare annual reports and five-year assessments of different areas of the voluntary preschool program, including: budget, curriculum, facilities, teacher pay and recruitment. The act would require that program expenses are capped at 6%. Regular audits would be required of the program's administrative costs. The state Superintendent would also have to develop a special preschool teaching credential for new preschool teachers.
Within the Act's guarantee of preschool for all, there are requirements ensuring that preschools are located near students' homes. The needs of special education and foreign language students are also guaranteed. Parents are given choice as to which preschools to enroll their children. However, transportation costs are not covered in the initiative. The Act requires that links are made with local child care and elementary schools to provide maximum child care for parents if possible. However, the Act specifically states that the state has no obligation to provide all day child care and that none of its funds may be used to pay for all day child care. The Act would also require community outreach at the local level to inform parents about the program and access of its services. Other provisions include new standards for state preschool teachers and aids. Teachers who work under the plan must be paid at the same levels as K-12 teachers. By 2016-17, teachers must have earned baccalaureate degrees and special early education credentials. $700 million is provided from Act funds for grants to education students and college education programs. Special funding for facilities is also included in the Act.
The Preschool for All Act campaign submitted more than 1 million signatures to election officials just after the new year. The California Secretary of State certified 716,000 as valid in January 2006. The measure needed 598,000 valid signatures to qualify. The measure was named Proposition 82 on January 31, 2006. The measure enjoys wide support from education and labor groups, many legislators, and law enforcement. It is also supported by business interests such as some large city chambers of commerce and high-profile businessmen. Detractors also come from the business community, who are concerned with creating expensive broad-scale programs in California government. They also oppose taxing the wealthy to pay for the measure.
On May 15, the Preschool for All Act campaign released an expensive new television ad-campaign to promote the initiative. The opposition campaign released their own ad campaign shortly after. Proposition 82 has fallen in the polls since it was named in late January though latest polls still show it ahead by a slight margin.
Also in May, Gov. Schwarzenegger proposed an alternate preschool plan which would spend $50 million next year as part of a phased in program that would eventually commit $145 million annually to government sponsored preschool. This amount is significantly smaller than the amount provided in Proposition 82. Schwarzenegger opposes the proposition on the grounds that middle class and upper class children are already covered in preschool programs and Prop. 82's universal program is redundant and expensive. His plan allocates money to 43,000 4-year-olds from poor families who are not already enrolled in preschool.
Arguments For and Against
Proponents of Prop. 82 say that preschool is a vital part of a child's future success and that it's important that all California's children have access to early education. Supporters of the proposition point to studies such as "The Economics of Investing in Universal Preschool Education in California," a recent Rand Corp. report, which found that every dollar California invests in preschool would return $2.62 in savings later on through lower juvenile crime and high school dropout rates. Other studies cited show that children are more likely to read by the third grade and are less likely to need remedial education. They are also more likely to graduate high school and go to college.
Supporters of the act believe that financing the preschool program with tax increases to the wealthiest Californians is the best way to pay for a program of this size. Reiner and other supporters argue that wealthy Californians won't feel the tax increase, while many low income children will have an opportunity previously unavailable. They say that it's necessary to generate new income rather than rely on an already cash strapped budget. They argue that wealthier Californians received an average tax cut of $77,000 from the federal government last year and would be giving less than $9,000 of that amount back to fund the program.
Opponents of the measure claim that universal preschool is not as desirable as proponents hope. They point to studies like NBER's recent "How Much is Too Much? The Influence of Preschool Centers on Children's Social and Cognitive Development" which finds that students who attend full-time pre-school may demonstrate increased social problems later on. Opponents also claim that students who attend early preschool don't necessarily do better than students who wait until Kindergarten. Critics say that universal preschool does not make sense in terms of capacity, that giving access to all 3-5 year olds will actually create a preschool shortage. They say that a more rational approach would target low-income children specifically.
Opponents also disagree with supporters on how the Preschool for All Act would finance the new preschool program. They say that tax increases will drive wealthy people out of the state and stop businesses from investing in California. This, critics claim, would jeopardize the California general fund which is maintained by income taxes on the wealthy. They claim that it is also unfair to single out one segment of the population for tax increases. Opponents have argued that the act would create an expensive new bureaucracy which will limit local control and make it harder for parents to be involved. They say the act would cause thousands of community based preschools to close as well as create a new teacher shortage by requiring credentialed teachers in every preschool. Finally, they say that the Preschool for All initiative would send new tax dollars to the program while depriving regular education funds for California's K-12 schools.
In December 2005, the First Five California Commission aired several public service announcements touting the benefits of preschool. Rob Reiner, who chairs the state run agency, received criticism by some who felt that the ads running during the Preschool for All signature gathering process represented a conflict of interest. The First Five California Commission is a state run commission established through a Reiner-led ballot initiative approved in the 1998 election. The commission focuses on the development of children in their first five years of life. Reiner serves as both chairman of the First 5 California Commission and a co-chairman of the Preschool for All initiative. Reiner's defenders claim that he excused himself from First 5's media campaign work to focus on the initiative. Republican activists put increasing pressure on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to replace Reiner as head of the First 5 Commission, claiming Reiner's explanation was not enough. Critics believe that the $18 million ad campaign crosses an ethical line, using taxpayer dollars to support an idea targeted in a June initiative. Critics have voiced concerns that the commission hired consultants connected to Reiner without opening the position to competition from other consultants. They also say that the commission has paid people working on Reiner's Prop. 82 campaign with public funds. Democratic and Republican lawmakers ordered an audit of the First 5 Commission in early March. In addition, a close aide to Reiner left the campaign amid concerns over the no-bid consultant controversy. On March 21, 2006, Schwarzenegger said he would not replace Reiner from the chairmanship of First 5 California until Reiner was proved to have committed wrong doing. However, Reiner resigned from his post on March 29 because of the controversy. Schwarzenegger appointed Hector Ramirez to replace Reiner. Ramierez was previously the vice president of Para Los Niños, a California advocacy organization for poor children. Assemblyman Dario Frommer, D-Glendale has said he plans on expanding the investigation into the First Five Commission. He will request that auditors look at past ad campaigns from the commission for evidence of any wrongdoing.
by California Legislative Analyst, Feb. 16, 2006.
Reports and Studies
Cardiff, Christopher F.; Stringham, Edward.
Is Universal Preschool Beneficial? An Assessment of RAND Corporation's Analysis and Proposals for California. Reason Institute, May 2006.
Izumi, Lance T.; Yan, Xiaochin Claire.
No Magic Bullet: Top Ten Myths About Government-run Universal Preschool. Pacific Research Institute, May 2006.
Special Survey on Education. Public Policy Institute of California, April 28, 2006.
"The Case Against Universal Preschool in California," Reason Policy Brief, no. 42, Feb. 2006.
Reason Policy Brief
County-Level Estimates of the Effects of a Universal Preschool Program in California. Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2005.
Proposition 82: Public Preschool Education. Tax Increase on Incomes Over $400,000 for Individuals; $800,000 for Couples.
Sacramento, CA: Legislative Analyst's Office, 2006.
Lopez, Elias S., and de Cos, Patricia L.,
Preschool and Childcare Enrollment in California. Sacramento, CA: California Research Bureau, January 2004.
Ready to Learn: Quality Preschools for California in the 21st Century . Sacramento, CA: California Department of Education, 1998.