California education news: What’s the latest?

California has made progress towards the goal of achieving universal preschool, according to a national report that ranks state-funded preschool programs. California now ranks 16th in the nation in preschool enrollment for 4-year-olds and 15th for 3-year-olds across the transitional kindergarten (TK) and California State Preschool Program (CSPP) programs. That’s up from ranking 18th for 4-year-old access and 16th for 3-year-old access last year.

California now serves 38% of the state’s 4-year-olds and 9% of 3-year-olds in state-funded preschool, for a total combined enrollment of 209,081, according to the 2023 State of Preschool Yearbook, an annual report card on state-subsidized early education published by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University

“Universal preschool is a huge undertaking in the nation’s most populous state, and California’s efforts and commitment are fundamentally changing education in the Golden State,” said Steven W. Barnett, NIEER’s senior co-director and founder in a release. “To fulfill the promise of a better education for all children, California must ensure funding remains adequate to provide high-quality preschool, pay teachers well, ensure small class sizes, and full-day programs as programs are expanded to serve families.”  

The state increased preschool funding by nearly $1 billion, and this increase notably represents 71% of the entire national growth in preschool spending, according to the report. State spending per child averaged $15,305 in 2022-2023, up $2,258 from 2021-2022.

However, it should be noted that quality remains an issue. Although the state’s preschool program meets six of the report’s 10 benchmarks for a high-quality offering, the transitional kindergarten program, a bridge between preschool and kindergarten which began during the 2012-2013 year and is now being expanded to all 4-year-olds, only meets three of them. That’s still an improvement from 2019, when the TK program only met two of the standards.

“It is worrisome that TK only meets 3 benchmarks given that the program reaches more than 100,000 children,” said Allison Friedman-Krauss, an assistant research professor at NIEER. “The state is also working hard to set policies for quality, so we hope it will meet more benchmarks going forward.” 

The need for smaller class sizes and specialized teacher training to meet the specific developmental needs of the youngest learners are among the key reasons for concern.

“Class size is a major concern because of the evidence about how much it matters,” added Barnett. “However, because these policies are subject to local control and vary by district, the biggest concern is not that the program overall is lacking but that some children will have large class sizes while others have smaller class sizes. Also, there is rigorous evidence that TK has positive effects, which offers some reassurance. Of course, it is likely that the program would be even more effective if it adopted the California State Preschool ratio requirements and developed a comprehensive system for continuous improvement.” 


Karen D’Souza

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