Today may be decision day for the county Board of Supervisors on a half to quarter-cent sales tax measure that might fund a program to increase preschool access and affordability. But the general tax requires four votes, and there is a growing belief that both Supervisors Matt Rexroad and Oscar Villegas will oppose the measure.
Ironically, Supervisor Villegas, who represents West Sacramento, may oppose the measure because West Sacramento has already run a successful pilot program for over a decade.
As the staff report notes, “Funding from the City of West Sacramento, First 5 CA, First 5 Yolo, and other contributors built a model program that, at full funding, included all three key components: quality support or enhancement, accessibility, and affordability.”
Staff adds, “By both scaling up the successful, 10-year UP For West Sacramento (Up4WS) pilot and expanding and enhancing the current First 5 IMPACT quality improvement program, the Yolo County Quality Preschool/Early Childhood Education Initiative will build on existing programs, both public and private, center-based and family settings, to create a network of improved quality programming, expanded capacity, and affordability in areas across the County.”
Staff writes, “Following the Up4WS pilot program, the Yolo County Preschool Initiative seeks to improve quality and access across the County of Yolo, in every jurisdiction, as well as expanding and upgrading preschool and early learning among high-need and/or at-risk populations.”
Matt Rexroad has received heavy lobbying, apparently much of it from Davis, to support the program. However, as he notes, this is not a universal preschool program and, in fact, it is not even close.
At most, with partial 25 percent and 50 precent scholarships, this would fund about 886 children countywide, and just 152 in Davis. Ironically, Woodland may gain the most benefit from the program, as Davis has a much higher percentage overall of children currently in preschool and Woodland would see the benefit for 269 children.
However, Mr. Rexroad believes that, while this may be a good thing, “it is not the biggest need in Woodland right now.”
Matt Rexroad also questions whether county government, which is not an educational organization, is the proper venue to fund this initiative. However, one problem with that argument is that the county actually funds a number of agencies that are autonomous in governance – for instance, the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department, Assessor’s Office, Elections Office, District Attorney’s Office, along with the County Department of Education, are all funded by the county but headed up by independently elected officials.
We have a strange system of governance, where elected officials at the county level rely on the Board of Supervisors for their funding. Jesse Ortiz, the County Superintendent of Schools, thus lacks the legal mechanism for raising taxes to fund programs – other than going to the county.
So, while Mr. Rexroad is correct that the county government is not an educational organization, it’s also not a law enforcement organization but it funds the Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s Office.
Unless Mr. Rexroad has a last-minute change of heart, it appears that the this measure will lose, despite a 3-2 vote in its favor.
The county-wide program was only going to fund about $2.925 million in preschool programs, assisting under 1000 children. Of that, only half a million would go to Davis to fund about 152 children, as stated above. The program would be a starting point, but would need funding from other sources to really take off. There is another $966,000 in the quarter-cent plan for Early childhood Education Improvement which is a countywide program.
So, what happens if the board does not fund this?
Davis has its own opportunities. In Davis, about 71 percent of students already attend preschool, which is by far the highest number in the county. However, the 29 percent that do not attend preschool in Davis closely mirrors the at-risk and Title One population.
One option that the district has is that, when they consider increasing the parcel tax, they use some of that money to fund their own preschool scholarship program along the lines of the West Sacramento model.
Right now the school board is considering either a $620, $750, or $960 parcel tax. A $620 tax, which is considered to be at the renewal level to maintain current programs, would generate about $9.5 million for the district. Increasing the parcel tax to $750 would generate another $2 million, and increasing it to $960 would generate an additional $5 million or so.
DJUSD could then take $1 million or $2 million and produce its own preschool program that would serve twice to four times the number of students that a countywide program would serve.
Speaking to several of the board members this week, there seems to be at least tentative and preliminary support for increasing preschool access. Obviously, universal preschool would require both local and state funding to achieve.
This spring, there was a statewide push for the state to spend significantly more money on preschool and child care. The plan pushed before the legislature would have required around $5 billion in tax money to implement.
Research has shown that, nationwide, more than two-thirds of high-income students ages three and four attend preschool, while less than 40 percent of low-income students do. Research suggests high-income families send their children to preschool in far higher numbers because they can afford the costs.
Five billion, amazingly, is still not enough for universal programs, which would cost about $8 to $9 billion more per year than the state currently spends.
Those numbers put into perspective the modest efforts by the county that would only impact 886 children, but at least they represent a start and a move in the right direction.
—David M. Greenwald reporting