In the end, not only did the preschool tax fall short of the four votes needed to put it on the ballot, it fell short of even a majority, as Supervisors Oscar Villegas and Duane Chamberlain, who had supported staff drawing up ballot language two weeks before, voted against putting the measure on the ballot.
The official reason expressed by Supervisor Oscar Villegas was concerns about having the tax increase on the same ballot as tax measures in West Sacramento and Woodland. Davis apparently has no such concerns, as the tax measure would have been concurrent with a sizable parcel tax.
Nevertheless, it is interesting that Supervisors Don Saylor and Jim Provenza of Davis would be the two strongest advocates, as Davis, at least by the numbers, would have benefited least from the proposal.
But by far the most disappointing result is the vote of Oscar Villegas, whose wife runs the non-profit Yolo County Children’s Alliance. The 501(c)(3) was established in 2002 by a resolution of the Yolo County Board of Supervisors as a way of “addressing a number of community concerns that impact children and their families such as access to quality pediatric health care, childhood obesity, and child neglect and abuse.”
Moreover, West Sacramento has for the last decade benefited from a pilot program called Universal Preschool for West Sacramento – a preschool program that the countywide program has been modeled after. That program has received about $7.4 million from First 5 Yolo over the last decade.
While the program has been successful, with a January 2016 evaluation report showing that those who attended the preschool program were more ready for kindergarten compared to their peers who did not, the fact that West Sacramento played a key role in blocking a similar countywide program is troubling.
It is more troubling that supervisors in Woodland and West Sacramento, where large numbers of students do not attend preschool, would be blocking a program to at least start launching a countywide program – even if the funding available from this tax would have been far short of what is needed.
While Davis has a large student population already attending preschool – 71 percent by one measure – drilling down into that figure reveals reasons to attempt to improve and expand coverage. For one thing, the 29 percent who do not attend preschool strongly mirrors the 25 percent Title One students in the district.
For another, the achievement gap in Davis has been stronger and more pervasive than in other communities. Students who start out at a disadvantage, with a lag in the readiness for kindergarten, in many cases may not catch up.
The emerging research on this is somewhat inconclusive and even contradictory, with a recent study of Head Start students finding that differences between low income students who attended Head Start and those who did not disappeared by the third grade. But other studies that went beyond looking at scores on standardized tests found that, in the long term, those who attend preschool programs do better than those who do not.
With county funding off the table until at least 2018, the local school district has its own options. Next week the school board has two special meetings that go a long way toward deciding the appropriate amount of the next parcel tax.
The board could go with essentially a “status quo” parcel tax of $620. While that amount is somewhat higher than the current tax, the increased amount will fund the same level of programming, due to inflation and also a decrease in funding due to a lawsuit settlement.
Or the board could opt for higher levels at $750 per year or $960. In addition to the amount of the parcel tax, the board would need to figure out what to spend the money on. One suggestion put forward by Alan Fernandes has been to set aside some amount for a rainy day fund that could be used to augment the current expenditures in the case an economic downturn.
Earlier this week we suggested that some amount of that parcel tax could be used to fund a program for Davis students to attend preschool. There seems some support from some of the board members on that.
In addition to parcel tax money, Davis should look toward applying to First 5 to see if they can get money like West Sacramento did, to go to a preschool program.
However, these are just speculative.
The first question that the board has to ask is what number to ask the community for. Polling suggests that, even at $960, there are some 61 percent in the community inclined to support a parcel tax. They would have to get two-thirds support to implement the tax. While some have shied away from that, some believe there is strong support for our schools in the community and if the board made the ask and laid out the need, the community will back it.
Given that the current parcel tax measures do not expire until June 30, 2017, the board has time to come back in March and pass a $620 parcel tax if this one fails – but I do not expect that to be necessary.
The vote by the Board of Supervisors suggests we cannot count on the county to fund these programs and that means we need to step up to help the less fortunate kids in this district get off to a good start and, hopefully by doing so, we can close the achievement gap.
—David M. Greenwald reporting