June 2, 2006

Commentary:

Vote “Yes” on Proposition 82:

The Preschool for All Act

By Janet Murgia, President and CEO of National Council of La Raza, and
Katrina Mendiola ,NCLR California State Advocacy Coordinator

All parents want their children to gain the education and skills they need to find a good job and achieve success in life. Many parents do not realize that one of the best ways to put their children on this path to success is to enroll them in preschool. Even if they do recognize the value of preschool, though, some parents cannot afford it or do not have preschool services in their neighborhoods. This situation may be about to change, which is good news for Latino families, who have traditionally been underserved by preschool programs.

On June 6, voters in California can make high-quality, free preschool a reality for all children in the state by voting “yes” on Proposition 82, also known as the “Preschool for All Act.” This ballot initiative offers a long-term solution to the problems experienced by students who are falling through the cracks – as demonstrated by academic achievement gaps, rising dropout rates in high school and college, and juvenile delinquency.

That is why the National Council of La Raza and a select group of early childhood education advocates from its California affiliate network support Proposition 82. The “Preschool for All Act” is the first step to close the existing educational achievement gap that many Latino children suffer and give all children in California the opportunity to gain the early academic and social skills that will serve them well in school and in life. Latino families will benefit from a program that builds upon the existing public and private preschool system, is free of charge, and is flexible enough to give parents an array of options.

The benefits of preschool are long-lasting – research has shown that the advantage enjoyed by children who went to preschool, compared with those who did not, is still seen when they are in 8th grade. Children who attended preschool are more likely to graduate from high school and go to college, which means they are more likely to get higher-paying jobs. Also, studies have found that children who go to preschool are less likely to engage in criminal activity later on in life.

These benefits have been denied to most Hispanic children in California, who currently represent nearly half of all preschool-aged children in the state but account for just 36% of preschool students. Many working families today find that private preschools are prohibitively expensive; the few public programs available have long waiting lists for admission. Latino families are often disappointed when they seek preschools that are located within their neighborhoods and have teachers from the community. When it comes to preschool, these families have waited far too long for a system that truly meets their needs.

Prop. 82 will allow communities to leverage the wealth of experience found in California’s community-based organizations so that counties can establish enough preschool programs that are culturally and linguistically appropriate for Latino children by permitting counties to fund preschool programs in a variety of venues – school districts, charter schools, colleges, and other licensed providers, including child care centers and family child care homes. Community-based organizations have been shown to be vital to help bring together parents, teachers and staff and put into place the preschool services that will be most effective for Hispanic children.

As more Latino children attend preschool, more parents will get involved early in their children’s education, helping to ensure their success. Eliot Levine of the Harvard Family Research Project says that children do better with their family’s involvement and support in school: “The relationship between the family and the school makes a big difference in how a child can benefit from school.” Successful programs in other states that engage the whole family in literacy activities – encouraging families to read together and create stories – can serve as a model.

Preschool is a wise investment in our children and our future. A Rand Corporation study found that for every $1 invested in public preschool in California, the state will save an estimated $2.62 due to reduced costs in remedial education and a higher rate of educated workforce participants. By approving Proposition 82, Californians are voting for a preschool program that will work for Latino families – and all families – throughout the state. It is vital to the future economic well-being of California and the state’s workforce to give children the chance to start learning early and thrive in school. On June 6, vote “yes” on Proposition 82.

Letters to the Editor Return to the Frontpage