More Children in CA Deserve Access to Quality Early Learning – Lessons from Four States

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By Robert Viramontes | Originally Published by La Comadre

Investing in early education programs is critical, as studies continue showing that children who are exposed to high-quality preschool education are more likely to succeed in school – and later on as adults in the job market. And with the elections coming up in November, early care and education (ECE) has emerged as a critical policy issue. For example, the First Five Years Fund conducted a 2016 poll where 90% of voters agreed that Congress and the next president should work together to make quality early education more accessible and affordable for low- and middle-income families. Furthermore, the candidates themselves are also talking more about early learning. Secretary Clinton proposed a jobs and economy plan that includes early education – child care tax credits as well as professional development opportunities for ECE providers. For the Republican nominee, Donald Trump has made mention of providing tax deductions for families pursuing child care services. While there is a considerable amount of research on the elements of high-quality early learning programs, little information is available to policymakers about how to convert a vision for early learning, into a reality for the families that need it most.

This past summer, the Learning Policy Institute released a brief titled The Road to High-Quality Early Learning: Lessons From the States that fills that gap by describing and analyzing how four states – Michigan, West Virginia, Washington State, and North Carolina – have established quality early education systems. Among the common elements of their success are the following:

  • Prioritize quality and continuous program improvement
  • Invest in training/coaching for providers and staff
  • Coordinate the administration of programs from birth to Grade 3
  • Combine funding sources to expand access and improve quality
  • Create broad-based coalitions for support

While the needs and challenges mentioned by the four states are drastically different from California, there are still some lessons to build from for counties and regions across the Golden State. In addition, the brief also contributes to a new way of thinking about our education system – that learning and development of children does not begin at Kindergarten, it begins before birth and we need to do what we can to expand access to quality ECE programs (research shows that more than 80 percent of a child’s brain growth is completed by age three). This is especially true for the children that stand to benefit the most from quality ECE programs, such as dual language learners, children of color and from low-income households.

What’s important to note here is that race gaps in Pre-K quality lead to wider gaps in outcomes down the road. For Black and Latino children, they start behind with their development and often do not catch up. This is partly because they are more likely to end up in lower-quality Pre-K classrooms. So it appears that achievement gaps by race, begin early and often persist through K-12, higher education, and into the workforce. Yet, in California, funding for ECE is still about 20 percent below pre-recession levels, serving fewer children. It is critical that we continue working toward closing these achievement gaps, but it will require an intensive effort from parents, providers and other stakeholders at every stage of learning and development for the children of California.