. - At the Family Nurturing Center - a top-rated California
private preschool here - 4-year-olds are spread among a half-dozen
play stations doing what kids do best. They dress up, sing, glue
buttons to paper, work puzzles, play restaurant, and listen to
Currently, such primary education costs a California family an
average of $4,022 a year. An initiative on the June ballot would put
the state on the hook to pay the preschool bill.
Supporters hope that if voters pass Proposition 82, some 550,000
4-year-olds who live in California would have a chance to go to
school. Currently, 1 in 5 children in the state attends school
before kindergarten. However, the initiative, which was once popular
with residents, is losing voter support amid a disagreement over
which children would benefit.
If it were to pass, California would be the fourth state after
Georgia, Florida, and Oklahoma to provide universal preschool for 4-
year-olds. (Illinois has proposed doing so for 3- and 4-year-olds.)
Of these states, California would make the largest investment.
"California is so huge, with such a large percentage of the
nation's children, that everything it does in education has a huge
impact," says Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for
Early Education Research.
Prop. 82 would create a 3-hour daily program for 180 days a year
with new teacher qualifications and curriculum standards. Out are
regimented, one-size-fits-all approaches, say teachers. In are
individualized and "experiential" learning methods. "If they are
interested in it, we will do it, says director/teacher Michelle
Ventimiglia at the Family Nurturing Center. "If they are not, we
Universal preschool in California would be voluntary and
expensive. The money will come from a 1.7 percent tax on individuals
with incomes over $400,000 (or couples who earn $800,000 or more).
Prop. 82 is expected to generate about $2.1 billion to $2.4 billion
annually, providing $24 billion over a decade.
The financial boost could improve academic achievement in
California schools, which once ranked No. 1 in scholastic aptitude
test scores, and now is 45th in reading skills, say teachers unions,
politicians, and labor groups backing Prop. 82. Others dispute
whether preschool will have a positive impact on student
The new initiative would invest more than other states do in
preschool, providing twice the amount of money as Florida. The
teacher training component is modeled after Oklahoma's successful
program. "Prop. 82 is very comprehensive. It's really going to
improve the quality of teachers, their education and training, and
school infrastructure . …