Speaking to teachers and students at Sunset Elementary School in Fresno on Tuesday, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a trio of bills; Part of a $ 123.9 billion legislative package that includes record-breaking investments in public schools.
The package promises universal pre-kindergarten, expanding dual immersion language programs, and seed capital for college savings accounts for millions of students. The package has been in the state budget since at least May as part of Newsom’s California comeback plan. It will give public schools the highest government school funding in California history.
A variety of local and state officials and educators joined Newsom at the school library Tuesday, including state superintendent for public teaching Tony Thurmond, several members of the congregation, senators, and Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer.
About $ 2.7 billion of the funding will help create a universal preschool program for 4-year-olds in the state by 2025, including building and renovating existing state preschools, transitional kindergartens, and kindergarten facilities. The phased introduction will begin next year.
Fresno Unified Superintendent Bob Nelson, speaking before Newsom, said young children in poverty come to school academically behind their middle- or higher-income peers.
“We want every 4-year-old to have the opportunity to be in school every day, all day, all the time,” he said.
According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, which publishes an annual State of Preschool report, California ranks 15th in the nation for access to preschool for 4-year-olds. According to the report, only 37% of California 4-year-olds, or about 182,000 children, were enrolled in a preschool program in the 2019-2020 school year. States like Vermont, Wisconsin, and Florida enroll more than 70% of their 4-year-olds in a program.
Nelson told The Bee that he has long been pushing for students to start school earlier to level the playing field for those who cannot currently afford pre-K programs.
In essence, creating an entirely different class will create facilities issues, Nelson said, noting that the governor’s visit was in the library as it was the only space available on campus. But these problems will be solved by creating facilities that are tailored for early education, he said.
Newsom’s office said they selected Fresno’s Sunset Elementary School for Tuesday’s signing ceremony, also because it is a dual immersion school. The plan is investing $ 10 million in expanding the bilingual immersion programs.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Newsom said he chose Fresno because of the college savings account program as well.
“I really think this is a big, big deal,” Newsom said. “One of the reasons I wanted to come here, especially Fresno, is because a disproportionate number of your children will have this benefit. It’s really exciting. “
Fresno’s mother, Lourdes Olivia, said offering universal free Pre-K was a “big step forward for humanity”.
Her son attended a free headstart program, and Olivia said she didn’t know the state preschool wasn’t already free.
“He has benefited tremendously from this experience and it has helped me too,” she told The Bee. “I knew he was learning information that I didn’t have as a kid and / or as a teenage mom. It also shaped me to see how liberating it is to have access to knowledge and possibilities. “
Larissa Mercado, a parent of Central Unified and a professor of Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies in Fresno state, said the investment was long overdue.
“The data shows that Pre-k improves literacy rates, health outcomes, and life outcomes for children. It enables mothers to enter or re-enter the workforce, which can have implications for family equality. “
She said it could also save families thousands of dollars on childcare.
“What the pandemic has shown us is how much we depend on mothers to support our families. The pandemic has really pushed mothers out of higher education, out of professional life, in particular. “
Mercado wants to see more teacher prep programs with the funding.
“I also hope this means higher pay for pre-k teachers, ideally across the k-12 system,” she said.
Gavin Newsom’s California comeback plan
Also noteworthy in Newsom’s package – $ 1.9 billion will help set up college savings accounts of up to $ 1,500 for students at risk. An ongoing $ 170 million will be used to set up accounts for each student at risk when they enter first grade.
California students also receive free meals at school for a running price of $ 650 million. Special Education receives $ 1.5 billion including ongoing funding and $ 260 million for early childhood education.
The package will fund after-school and summer programs, improve teacher-to-student ratios in the classroom, and expand broadband infrastructure in the state. Students will also see more outdoor arts and environmental education programs in their schools.
Approximately $ 4.3 billion will be used over five years to transform young people’s behavioral health systems to identify and treat trauma, depression, anxiety, mental disorders and substance abuse in those under 25.
Newsom said legal status does not affect whether or not people have access to the programs of the legislation.
“I want everyone in the Latino community, everyone in this community, to have the same opportunities as the people down in Beverly Hills. Because if they do, nothing stands in the way of this region, ”he said.
“So we’re here to highlight our responsibility for more than just rhetoric, to provide this opportunity in a fair way.”
The Bee’s Isabel Sophia Dieppa contributed to this report.
The Education Lab is a local journalism initiative that highlights educational issues that are critical to the advancement of the San Joaquin Valley. It is funded by donors. Find out more about The Bee’s educational laboratory here.
This story was originally published October 5, 2021 12:15 p.m.