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Future California Might Have Universal Preschool, But It Will Take Billions (For Starters)

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Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ambitions to expand California’s early care and learning programs are outlined and explained in a strategic plan that was released today.

The Master Plan for Early Learning and Care imagines a future California that would include:

  • Universal preschool for all 4-year-olds
  • Universal preschool for all 3-year-olds from low-income families and children with disabilities.
  • A revised state paid family leave program allowing new parents to take more time off to care for newborns and receive a larger percent of their wages.
  • Elimination of preschool suspensions and expulsions.
  • Different pay scales from the state to providers who care for children from low-income families.
  • More money to renovate, expand and build new child care facilities.

But before the state can reach these goals and others described in the 107-page document, it’ll have to stabilize the child care providers that have remained open throughout the coronavirus pandemic. It will also need to find a solution for the thousands of slots that have been lost to permanent closures.
“Every child in California deserves a shot at opportunity,” Gov. Newsom said in a press release, adding:

“By investing in the development and learning needs of our kids, with a focus on equity, we are investing in the future of our state. The Master Plan for Early Learning and Care translates our aspirations into an actionable roadmap – one that centers on the success of our youngest Californians, their families and the communities and caregivers that lift them up.”

California’s legislature set aside $5 million for the plan’s creation and it was originally due out in October, but the release was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
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The main authors include staff from the educational research non-profit WestEd, Stanford University, policy think tank RAND, Child Trends and American Institutes for Research.

The master plan builds on decades of work to improve services for kids, their families and the early childhood workforce. Last year, the Assembly Blue Ribbon Commission on Early Childhood Education compiled 108 pages of recommendations after a lengthy public process including more than 70 meetings.

The unanswered question remains how to pay for this reimagined system. The master plan estimates it’ll take an additional $2 billion to $12 billion to accomplish its goals.

As child care and early learning is funded now, quality programs cost more than any one source provides and not all families have access.

“The added investments may come from federal, state, or local dollars,” the plan reads, but it’s still unclear how or when those investments will appear.

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The state is looking to the incoming federal administration for support.

“Embracing the Master Plan’s recommendations will position California to capitalize on federal initiatives likely to be advanced by President-elect Joe Biden, whose campaign prominently featured a detailed early learning and care plan,” reads the introduction.

We’re reaching out to parents, child care providers and other stakeholders to see what they think of the plan.

You can read it below and when you’re done, send thoughts and questions to mdale@scpr.org to help guide our future reporting.

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