More on SB 837 (Steinberg)

What I posted on EdSource today in response to an editorial by Paul Miller of Kidango.

I have contacted the Senator (Steinberg) with my concerns and do hope to hear back from him.

While I certainly agree (with Paul Miller) that all children can benefit from early education experiences, I respectfully differ in the opinion as to who might be best equipped to provide those services. I also agree that an early learning program that seeks to become as close to “universal” as possible is a worthy objective.

As someone with about 30 years of experience in elementary education and early education; and as someone with experience in both publicly funded and private preschool programs; and as someone that has been actively involved in the professional association dedicated to young children and educators of young children – I currently can not support SB 837.

While the Bill’s language may ensure developmentally appropriate practices, the proposed delivery model provides scant assurances that the initial roll out of the program will include credentialed teachers familiar with or trained in early education. In addition, public schools have convinced few in the early care and education profession that they are particularly capable either of of identifying or implementing appropriate curriculum choices, as few in the world of K-12 curriculum decision-making positions have any substantial familiarity with early education best practices.

At this time, the Department of Education has in effect a delivery system that does understand and has for decades implemented early education best practices. The teachers in the State-funded preschool system already utilize strategies that support accountability, including assessments of children along 43 measures, assessments of the learning environment, and feedback from parents and families that utilize the system.

While SB 837 may encourage a mixed delivery system, as always, the devil is in the details. How will supervision of school district personnel by private providers take place? How will programs account for the utilization of materials, equipment, and space in a mixed delivery setting? In a classroom that is shared by TK and other-funded children, will we have materials locked away from some while available to others? What happens when a credentialed TK teacher with perhaps little or no early education experienced is paid three or four times the rate of experienced, non-credentialed degreed early education professionals at the same site for working with the same children?

What will become of existing programs that lose half of their eligible children, yet are not geographically close to a public school? Who will foot the transportation expenses of getting children to and from their part day TK classroom to their “child care” program?

Paul Miller is absolutely correct in stating, “The current early learning system in California is not sustainable for assuring a quality program. California’s part-day state preschool is collapsing because it receives less than half of what kindergarten receives in funding, and the costs are rising rapidly. Preschool teachers are paid less than half of what kindergarten teachers make, which is why teacher turnover is so high.” After some eight years of lost funding and neglect, the current system still manages to meet its funding terms and conditions. It still manages to prepare children for Kindergarten. It still manages to provide twice-yearly developmental assessments along 43 State-mandated measures to the thousands of children in its programs. It is not sustainable and will collapse given its current level of neglect despite the heroic efforts of underpaid and undervalued professionals, many, if not most, already possessing degrees in early education and related fields. Nothing in SB 837 promises to specifically address the currently neglected infrastructure.

As the economy recovers and policy-makers propose hundreds of millions of dollars to promote early education – nothing is assured for the women and men who have already sacrificed so much (wages, hours, status, health benefits) on behalf of young children and their families. These very programs that are being sacrificed under SB 837 could very well provide higher quality TK programs for less money to more children than the patched together, non-specific system proposed by SB 837. Imagine indeed the quality that the current system could provide with a reimbursement rate 50% better (or more) than it currently receives!

All Preschool teachers deserve a salary commensurate with their experience and education – not just the ones that become employees of a school district.

Investing in early education is vital. Research confirms this. But there is no research that indicates that learning outcomes for students who specifically experienced school district early learning experiences designed along the parameters of SB 837 (including TK) are superior to those that experienced early learning in other publicly funded (or for that matter private) settings.

Paul Miller states, “The fiscal landscape is improving after years of devastating cuts to child care and development programs. For the first time since 2008, the Legislative Analyst’s Office is projecting a surplus, with anticipated further improvement in the state’s economy. Politically, we haven’t seen the will to support early education in recent years – but that’s changing too.” So why wouldn’t we restore, rebuild, and reinvest in the system that has soldiered on during the hard economic times? Why would we suddenly invent a new system, one with no history, no well-identified system of oversight or review? Why would we divert resources from a tried and true model that is more than deserving of reinvestment?

California has a wonderfully diverse delivery system currently in place. Its shortcomings are due primarily to years of abuse and neglect stemming from California’s economic crisis. The path to high quality early learning exists. It needs to be cleaned up, restored, repaved perhaps – at an expense significantly less than to create a new path but a stone’s throw from the one currently in place.

Let’s be respectful. Let’s honor those that have worked for so little for so long for the sake of children and families. Let’s re-imagine SB 837 in a way that rebuilds what we already have, what children and families already know, what once made California’s early learning system the brightest in the nation.


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