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California Lawmakers Launch 'Universal Preschool' Initiative

'Transitional Kindergarten for All' the best way to 'chip away at inequality' say proponents

Lauren McCauley, staff writer

California Democrats are introducing Tuesday a proposal to bring free "universal preschool" to all children in the state, a measure championed by many as an imperative equalizer for children from lower-income families.

Authored by Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg and unveiled at a news conference Tuesday morning, the “Transitional Kindergarten for All” proposal expands existing programs that provide free public preschool for children who turn five years old too late in the year to attend regular kindergarten.

"Build preschools now, or prisons later."

"Higher income families are already making sure their children have access to high quality pre-kindergarten," Ted Lempert, president of the Oakland-based group Children Now, told Reuters ahead of the press conference. "It's imperative that all kids have access to that - so you don't have an achievement gap before kids are even entering kindergarten."

Hoping to provide California children "one of the highest quality kindergarten readiness programs in the nation," Steinberg's bill will have California—the most populous U.S. state—joining a handful of other locales who offer similar support. 

"[M]ountains of research suggests that early childhood initiatives are the best way to chip away at inequality and reduce the toll of crime, drugs and educational failure," New York Times reporter Nicholas Kristof wrote recently, reporting on the success of a universal preschool system already established in Oklahoma. "Repeated studies suggest that these programs pay for themselves: build preschools now, or prisons later."

President Obama championed a similar initiative in his 2013 State of the Union address when he called for wider access to state preschool programs for lower-income families. That plan, however, has stalled in Congress.


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