Two weeks ago, Yolo County supervisors voted 4-1 to have staff come back with a ballot measure for November that would create a half-cent countywide sales tax. The tax would be a general use tax, meaning it only requires a majority vote and would go to fund preschool, reduce homelessness and increase maintenance and repair of local roads.
The ten-year tax would generate around $16.8 million and has 64 percent of the county voters’ support, according to a recent poll.
However, the Vanguard has learned that, despite the four votes two weeks ago, Supervisor Oscar Villegas of West Sacramento may be wavering, favoring instead a West Sacramento-only initiative. Also in potential opposition is Supervisor Matt Rexroad of Woodland, who voted against the measure two weeks ago.
In our focus on the local achievement gap, a key factor is that preschool is not universally available to all students. Last fall, the Vanguard noted the lack of affordable preschool options. In Davis, for instance, other than the heavily-impacted and limited-spaced Head Start, there is very little in the way of preschool options for low income families.
By way of an example, Davis last fall opened a new preschool program at Valley Oak. This was touted as affordable, but the fee is $800 per month – well beyond the means of most low income families. For hundreds and probably thousands of low income families, preschool may be out of reach, and their kids start out behind and never catch up.
According to literature from the Yolo County Superintendent of Schools Jesse Ortiz, “A school readiness gap exists for the youngest learners in Yolo County. At least 41% of three and four year olds in Yolo County do not experience preschool before starting Kindergarten. Income disparities, rural location, family mobility – all present significant lifetime challenges that could be overcome by a quality preschool for all education system. Our entire county community would benefit from this system and the resulting overall positive economic impact.”
That is why Mr. Ortiz and a growing coalitions of elected officials are modeling a program after the 2002 Measure K approved by West Sacramento Voters – “Universal Preschool for West Sacramento.”
This policy would enable the implementation of a quality preschool program for all children in Yolo County.
The proposed preschool system would be one that is available to every child, regardless of family income, the child’s abilities, or other factors. Yolo County’s program would provide full-day, full-year quality preschool for all three-year-olds and eligible four-year-olds.
They write, “The adoption of preschool for all would address the current gaps in service provided by Transitional Kindergarten and preschools while ensuring that all three- and four-year-olds are ‘Kindergarten ready’ by age five.”
“Yolo County’s program would be developed with the support of existing private and public preschool providers in the area, and would strive to complement – rather than duplicate or replace – existing programs. The program would put in place a standardized accountability system to measure teacher quality that could be expanded and replicated to area school districts,” the advocates write.
“Yolo County preschool advocates firmly believe that all children should start Kindergarten prepared to succeed. By giving them the best possible start in life, we will ensure an educated workforce and positive economic growth far into the future.”
They continue, “Providing a full-day, full-year service to employees will enhance the area’s current offerings of affordable childcare for the workforce. Children, families, and subsequent local classes will all benefit from the additional training and professional development received by preschool providers.”
According to the literature, “A high-quality preschool education is critical to ensuring that children start Kindergarten on a level playing field with their peers. Since the 1960’s more than a hundred studies in the United States alone have shown that preschool attendance significantly benefits children’s school readiness and success. Without access to preschool, low-income children and dual language learners often start behind and stay behind as they progress through school.”
They cite research that shows that children who attend preschool are 24 percent more likely to pass reading tests through grade three, while those who do not read well by the end of third grade are four times more likely not to complete high school.
“Programs like Head Start, while intended to expand access to preschool for low income families, have not reached large segments of the population,” they write. Last fall, we noted that Head Start only reaches 450 students in Yolo County. In the meantime, “Income scales are often set too low, with the working poor and middle class ineligible altogether. In contrast, preschool-for-all programs reach all children and provide for the most efficient use of best practices, curriculum, and teacher development programs.”
According to a 2014 study, nearly 15,000 children five and under live in Yolo County. There are approximately 2,400 births annually. In 2015, an estimated 59 percent of all three- and four-year-olds in Yolo County were enrolled in a preschool program.
“Since 2008, the total number of subsidized child-care slots in Yolo County has decreased from 3,277 to 2,288 – leaving even more families without affordable, quality childcare options. The Yolo County Office of Education estimates that approximately 2,000 three and four year olds who qualify for Head Start and state-subsidized preschool are unable to find placement in these programs due to the long waiting lists,” they write.
Superintendent Ortiz notes that Measure K, the funding Mechanism for “Universal Preschool for West Sacramento,” was funded with a half cent override of the sales tax. He believes that between half a cent to a cent countywide could fund “Quality Preschool for All.”
But unless Matt Rexroad and/or Oscar Villegas sign onto this measure, somewhere around 6000 Yolo County children will be without access to a preschool program. At the cost of half a cent on each dollar spent, we can ensure that all students get that critical early education.
—David M. Greenwald reporting