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State Budget Update: Legislative Listening and Learning

Every January California’s Governor proposes an annual budget, which is analyzed and negotiated until a final budget passes the Legislature in by June 15th. During the months of February and March, Assembly and Senate Subcommittees hold hearings about specific elements of the proposed budget. These hearings typically include expert testimony, questions to the experts from subcommittee members, and time for members of the public to comment on the hearing topic.

This past Wednesday, February 20th, the Education Subcommittee held its first hearing in Sacramento, and the topic was early learning. The hearing, Pre-k for All: Lessons Learned from Other States, comprised three presentation panels with Q&A followed by time for public comments.

The first panelist was Dr. Ellen Frede, Senior Co-Director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University (NIEER), which publishes an annual state-by-state index of Pre-k quality.

Dr. Frede emphasized that the key to pre-k quality is the pre-k teacher. The teacher must be 1) qualified, which Dr. Frede defines as holding a BA and ECE certification;  2) paid at parity with K-12 teachers; and 3) supported by a positive work environment. She noted that achieving all of these goals in all early learning settings takes time and requires an implementation plan. In Dr. Frede’s state of New Jersey, moving toward a fully educated, compensated teaching force has been a multi-year endeavor.

In the second panel, Sarah Neville-Morgan of CA Department of Education and Erin Gabel of First 5 California reported on what they observed during a December 2018 learning tour of pre-k programs in Boston, New York, and New Jersey, that was hosted by Early Edge California and the office of Assemblymember Kevin McCarty.

Both panelists noted that early learning quality was higher when teachers had earned their BA degree, but they pointed to an additional benefit from teachers with BA degrees–many of the pre-k teachers in the schools they visited were the first in their family to attend college, and took pride in setting an example for their own children and families.

Neville-Morgan and Gabel also observed that the cities and states they visited had high per-pupil spending levels in both ECE and K-12, and that California would need to consider funding sources in its plan to expand quality pre-k.

In the third panel, Dean Tagawa of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and Scott Moore of Kidango, which operates child care centers and preschools in the East Bay and San Jose, talked about what they learned on the tour and what they are doing to build quality into their own programs.  Both invest in their teachers through pay and other incentives and provide support for teachers seeking credentials. They take pride in their strong retention rates and supportive work environments.

Stay tuned for more updates from Good2Know Network about current Sacramento discussions about expanding funding for quality ECE and Pre-k!

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