Blame California for Progressive 'Pre-K for All' Movement

Blame California for Progressive 'Pre-K for All' Movement

There is an interesting dynamic built into the 21st Century education paradigm.  At the back end, it’s all about college and career readiness and on the front end,  it’s all about early childhood learning. Pre-kindergarten, which  is also known as pre-k,  PK, TK (transitional kindergarten), preschool and daycare has become a national state of emergency, a call-to-action in compulsory public school education. It certainly was the centerpiece of President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address.

Then there’s former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who recently addressed the Arkansas early childhood education organization she championed when she was the state’s First Lady in the 1980’s, according to CNN. Through the Clinton Foundation, her “Too Small to Fail” initiative promotes research findings for the 0-5 educational years. Clinton has been making a lot of appearances  to low income and Hispanic groups to talk about early childhood education. Breitbart News has reported on several of these appearances.  According to Fox News, she has a permanent media home base to discuss these education issues at Univision. To date, Clinton is the presumed 2016 Democratic Presidential candidate. Connect the dots.

Yes, the nation’s youngest deserve, demand, and expect high-quality pre-school and access to future ready learning in a 21st Century Classroom loaded up with Common Core?

How anyone ever grew up and accomplished anything with only Romper Room, Captain Kangaroo, Schoolhouse Rock, Sesame Street, and Barney, the purple dinosaur, is a miracle. These days, it’s a different narrative: no preschool, apparently, no chance in life.

The pathways that states take to prepare their youngest students is also telling. Only in California could a celebrity dictate that no child should be left behind by spearheading an early childhood learning campaign. That’s exactly what happened in 2006 when louder-than-life activist and filmmaker Rob Reiner did what celebrities do best – he  told everybody else how to live.

Proposition 82, the “California Preschool for all Act,” which the Los Angeles Times reported Reiner also bankrolled, was intended to raise an estimated $2.4 billion annually by taxing individuals who earn more than $400,000 and couples who earn more than $800,000, according to the newspaper. 

This was supposed to be a subsidized, voluntary, free half-day preschool at public and private schools for all children, regardless of family income. At the time, the bill’s opponents believed the money would be better spent on the state’s existing public school system. However, the proposition ran into a few bumps because of Reiner’s dual role as cause champion and  First 5 California Children and Families Commission chairman. 

According to the Times, Reiner went on temporary leave from his post after he got caught hiding behind a First 5 panel that spent $23 million on ads touting preschool on behalf of passing Prop. 82. In the end, the measure was defeated resoundingly.

First 5 California, however, was also there to pick up the slack. They call themselves “the place to go for everything children 0-5,” and they are the result of the 1998 California voter approved Proposition 10, the tobacco tax. Taxing smokers meant funding health, safety, and state led early education under then governor Gray Davis. Over the years, First 5 has generated, quite possibly, more TV ads and ancillary materials on eating fruits and vegetable this side of the current First Lady, Michelle Obama. 

Under the First 5 umbrella is First 5 LA, the Los Angeles edition, which touted that it invested more than $1 billion into programs because of taxing cigarettes. The irony of the funding mechanism is that with all the stringent no smoking  regulations, it is virtually impossible to smoke in L.A. County. Thus, revenue streams have been slowly puffed out.

Still, because of Prop. 10, Reiner’s dream lives as the Rob Reiner Children & Families Development Center through a First 5 Quality and Access three-year grant program in the Perris Elementary School District, located in Riverside County, east of Los Angeles. However, Reiner’s pre-k is only for families “who fall within certain income guidelines” according to the website message from program Director Carol Jimenez.  Admission age is as early as 3 years old. 

Previously, the Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP), another private non-profit, was created and funded by First 5 LA, also part of the First 5 California family. Interestingly, First 5 California has ties to Race to the Top, the original 2009 stimulus package gateway through which states knowingly or unknowingly embraced the Common Core. California cleaned up as a first round 2011 RTT-ELC (Race to the Top – Early Learning Childhood) winner in the amount of $75 million over four years. In addition to First 5, there are California school districts that tap into RTT-ELC for funding.

Universal pre-k has really taken off as a political meme. New York’s progressive mayor Bill de Blassio, ran on it, although Governor Andrew Cuomo nixed his pre-k tax plan. In Texas, Democratic challenger for governor Sen. Wendy Davis wants to roll out a fully bloated Obama-esque  utopian universal pre-k plan that will cost taxpayers $750 million a year, at the least. Even President Obama’s proposed actual utopian universal pre-k for America is budgeted at the same $750 million as the free-spending Davis proposed for the Lone Star state. Breitbart Texas and Breitbart News have reported on the Davis and Obama plans.

Neither Davis’ wallet nor values are aligned with the conservative state which explains why the favored candidate for governor is GOP nominee and current state Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has a more modest and sensible approach at $118 million over two years to identify and assess what is working in existing pre-k programs before recklessly throwing around more taxpayer dollars.

Besides Texas already has its own Reiner-like activist in San Antonio’s uber-liberal mayor Julian Castro who rolled out his signature initiative Pre-K 4 SA in 2012. It also maxed out the local sales tax rate. According to KSAT News, Castro will now add two new pre-k education centers in August 2014. Yet, despite claims of pre-k for all, Castro’s pre-k is not free for all nor is it for all, according to Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff who spoke with the San Antonio Express News in 2012. Pre-K 4 SA does leaves 10 percent of slots for families that don’t meet the criteria. They pay a monthly tuition. 

Much like the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) program, the qualifications to be accepted  include “children must be 4 on or before Sept. 1 of the upcoming school year and have limited English proficiency, qualify for free or reduced lunch, be homeless, have a parent active in the military or have been in foster care,” the Dallas Morning News reported

On the week of April 7, DISD pushed heavily to move more 4 year-olds into full day pre-k. According to CBS DFW this was an all-out recruiting and registration campaign to get low income families, those with limited English speaking ability, and other eligible children enrolled.

No doubt, poverty is a terrible thing. However, the trend towards taxpayer funded public school pre-k may or may not end achievement gaps or net the equity reformers seek. Even the Obama administration’s Department of Health and Human Services found “that students who participate in the $8 billion Head Start program actually fare worse, in some ways, than students who do not…The study also found that positive effects of the program are not sustained into elementary school.” Breitbart News reported on these findings in 2013. For nearly 50 years, Head Start has been Fed Led Ed Jr.

Reality may eventually show that another component of the pre-k picture are middle class families where both parents have to work to make ends meet or choice to work. The all American Apple pie image of the stay-at-home mom may well be a memory. Today, it may even be an economic luxury for any mom to stay home in most income brackets.

Currently, though, in California, transitional kindergarten (TK) is being reinvented by Democrat Darrell Steinberg, Senate pro Tem President, and his fellow leftists who have worked overtime on the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2014 SB 837 to transform it into mandated status.

The official press release touted that the already overly mandated and financially strapped state will “make one year of high quality, voluntary transitional kindergarten available to every four-year-old child in California.” Heck, it’s even got  Common Core readiness built right in.

However, the Kindergarten Readiness Act preceded this incarnation. Signed into law in 2010, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hail this as a historic reform to ensure young learners were prepared to succeed in “kindergarten and beyond.” It was also crafted with a very specific purpose. The act was created to level out the age gap in the sandbox. 

That was caused because students born between September and December were, based on yearly “cut-off dates,” the youngest in a classroom. They struggled. There was a huge development gulf because kindergarten students spanned from 4 1/2 to 6 years old. The governor’s mandate meant all California kids had to be 5 when they hopped on the big yellow bus. 

However, in California the legally required age children are mandated to go to school is 6 years old. Thus, the legislation didn’t solve anything; it shifted the problem into a older age gap where the gulf became  5 to 6 1/2 years old. This prompted some parents to hold their children back a year, especially their sons. It was to give them a developmental advantage over the other kids. They thought that in the already high-stakes testing world of Fed Led Ed under the Bush Administration, it would help their kids succeed. This move by parents and school districts to hold kids back for a variety of reasons including testing, became known as the gift of a year. This may turn out to be no gift at all when a student graduates from high school at 19 years of age or older.

For all children, pre-K  is increasing becoming the prerequisite to Fed Led Ed reforms in an unproven world of Common Core mandates and choice-filled College and Career readiness pathways. It is something that states like Texas and California should be mindful–of each other’s choices if nothing else. Although, the red and the blue states are on different trajectories in many ways, that may not necessarily hold true when it comes to the classroom. Only time will tell what all this “high-quality preschool” really does for our youngsters and what becomes of these generations on the taxpayer funded pre-k primrose path .

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom

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