High-quality preschool programs rely on well-trained teachers to deliver positive teacher-child interactions, implement effective curriculum and meaningfully engage parents.

Data Highlights

Every dollar invested in high-quality preschool programs yields a $7 return. Children who attend high-quality preschools have higher high school graduation rates, higher lifetime earnings, and are less likely to spend time in the criminal justice system. Moreover, high-quality programs are particularly beneficial to low-income children, who are at greater risk of dropping out of school. Therefore, access to high-quality preschool is especially important for the 49% of California’s young children who live in low-income households.

While participation in high-quality preschool programs increases children’s academic and lifetime success, low-quality programs do not deliver the same positive results. Among California’s 3- and 4-year olds most likely to benefit from preschool, approximately 15% were attending high-quality, center-based programs.

Figure: Preschool enrollment by race and ethnicity
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An educated, well-trained, and stable workforce is essential to providing high-quality preschool programs. Yet, preschool teachers and staff in California are not required to complete annual professional training and less than 25% of them have a degree in a field related to early childhood education. Preschools have high teacher turnover, nearly 4 times higher than elementary schools. In fact, preschool programs lose one-third of their workforce annually, likely due to low wages.

Pro-Kid Policy Agenda

California should provide all pre-kindergarten-aged children with access to high-quality programs. Additionally, the state should support a high-quality standard for all early care and education programs through continued Department of Education oversight, supporting quality rating and improvement systems, building workforce capacity and promoting family involvement.

Figure: National standards for preschool inspection
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President Obama’s proposal for universal access to high-quality preschool for all low- and middle-income 4-year olds has generated widespread awareness of the importance of early education. As a result, California’s legislature in the 2013-14 budget has instructed the California Department of Education to create a plan by April 2014 for implementing universal preschool in the state.

The 2013-14 state budget includes a 1-year increase of $25 million for state preschool programs, a small but important step toward restoring the more than 30,000 preschool spaces for low-income children that have been cut since 2008.

Funded by a federal Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) grant and local First 5 Commissions, 16 counties are beginning to implement a Quality Rating and Improvement System that will promote continuous quality improvement in child care and preschool programs. Local Quality Rating Improvement Systems will initially serve an estimated 76,000 children and ultimately have the capacity to impact nearly 70% of the young children in
the state.