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CA budget plan preserves transitional kindergarten, adds preschool spots

Dorian Merina/KPCC
Teacher Carole Chivaro instructs students in her transitional kindergarten class at Pacific Elementary in the Sacramento City School District, June, 2016.

The budget deal reached by California legislative leaders and Governor Jerry Brown would add preschool slots, allow local preschools to raise wages for their workers, and preserve the transitional kindergarten program for 4-year-olds that was at risk of being cut entirely.

"This is a victory of California families," said Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, who helped broker the deal. "This is another piece in the puzzle that will help to reduce poverty in the state."

The final budget plan rejected the governor's initial proposal to consolidate all of the state's various early childhood funding streams into one block grant dedicated to early education for the state's neediest children. That proposal would have also eliminated transitional kindergarten, a move that had drawn vocal resistance from early childhood advocates. 

"I think legislators have heard from community organizations and parent organizations that it is a priority, that people value it, and that it plays an important role in K-12 success," said Kim Pattillo Brownson, managing director of policy and advocacy at the Advancement Project.

Rendon called the governor's plan to change the funding model for the transitional kindergarten program a "nonstarter" that the legislature resisted for months.

The budget preserves the state's current funding model and calls for $100 million in Proposition 98 funding to add 8,877 additional state preschool seats over four years, according to the Legislative Budget Conference Committee. It would also raise reimbursement rates to preschools, which could mean higher wages for early education teachers.

Jessica Holmes, finance budget analyst for the California Department of Finance, said that the governor had not entirely abandoned his goal of focusing more of the state's resources on the neediest young children. 

"We continue to want to look at these programs and ensure that they are being funded in a way that provides the best possible outcomes and we'll continue to have those conversations with the legislature," Holmes said.

She said the higher reimbursement rates are due to take effect on January 1, 2017 and will be 10 percent higher than existing rates.

"I think there's a recognition on the part of the administration and legislature that providers will likely experience increases in the cost of providing care in the next several years as the new state minimum wage is rolled out," said Holmes.

The legislature has until June 15 to pass a budget and send it to the governor's desk for his signature.