Most Viewed Stories
Yuba-Sutter preschool programs warn against state cuts
In Carmen Chavez's afternoon preschool class on Tuesday, students called out measurements during math, identified triangles as the shapes of boat sails and named yellow and blue as colors of cyclists' shirts.
Surrounded by educational posters for everything from days of the week to types of weather, the King Avenue Elementary students listened quietly, raised their hands and addressed the class when called on. And when it was time, they funneled their energy into coordinated exercises and an alphabet song, practicing letters and sounds.
"A lot of people think kids come to preschool for play and daycare, but they learn a lot," Chavez said. "Yes, they play a lot, too, but that's how they learn at this age."
All that may be at risk with budget cuts planned for the state preschool program next year. If funding cuts and eligibility changes take effect, Yuba-Sutter's children and their families will suffer lasting consequences, educators say.
"When you take that money away, that means our lowest-income children — who need the most assistance, who have the biggest gaps, who have the most barriers to overcome — they are going to enter kindergarten being behind," said Jorgine Rogers, childcare coordinator for the Childcare Planning Council of Yuba and Sutter Counties.
That is especially true in Yuba-Sutter, where so many students are English-language learners, she said. The earlier students from Spanish-, Hmong- and Punjabi-speaking homes enter school, the less they have to catch up.
When Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction, testified Tuesday at the capitol before the budget subcommittee on education finance, he spoke to the importance of child development and early learning.
"It's a simple choice," Torlakson said. "Invest in kids early, and reap the rewards of a better-educated, more productive workforce and a healthier state, or pay the price later — with more high-school dropouts and more young people headed for trouble."
State payments to preschool providers would be reduced by 10 percent, slashing the part-day rate from $21.22 to $19.10 and the full-day rate from $34.38 to $30.94. The new budget also would reduce qualifying monthly income levels from $3,518 to $3,090 per household, essentially eliminating 8,400 slots for low-income children for a savings of $44 million.
Programs could close in Yuba-Sutter as a result, Rogers said. Last year's reductions forced the elimination of full-day preschool in Marysville Joint Unified School District and Wheatland School District and shrank Yuba City Unified School District's offerings.
The planning council sent a letter opposing Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to the Legislature in February, saying the cuts to child care and development would decimate the system and leave thousands of California's "most vulnerable children" without quality early education and care.
Yuba and Sutter counties also are among the state's highest unemployment rates, Rogers said, and recipients of its child care programs often struggle with competing needs of child care support and working part-time, low-paying jobs.
Lowering the income standard reduces the number of families who qualify, said Kimberly Butcher, director of child development programs for Yuba City Unified.
"They are not going to be able to afford something else," Butcher said. "Their kids are just not going to get a preschool experience. Period."
At an operational level, reimbursements will be reduced, but preschools will still be held to the same standards. In order to pay the bills, they will have to serve more children without paying staff as they should and reduce full-time offerings, Butcher said.
"It's really a detriment to families," she said. "All it does is create less people who can work."
Parent participation is the most important factor in a child's education, yet will also be affected by cuts, Butcher said.
"The place to capture parents as far as them becoming an advocate for their children is in preschool," she said. "That's when they are most enthusiastic about parenting. Their kids are cute. They don't have teenage attitudes ... What we find over time is those parents stay engaged."
It's also been proven children who attend preschool are more likely to graduate high school and go to college.
"Kindergarten is so regimented, and if they don't have preschool, they are going to really struggle," Butcher said. "Preschool is the foundation of teaching them to be good learners, how to sit in a circle, how to line up, how to respond in a fire drill."
A preschool teacher for more than 20 years, Chavez laments the potential cuts. Today's children are learning what their parents waited a grade or two to learn, and it's evident in kindergarten who attended preschool and who did not.
"It gives them a big edge," she said. "Once they get that solid foundation, it makes a difference for the rest of their lives."
CONTACT Ashley Gebb at email@example.com or 749-4783. Find her on Facebook at /ADagebb or on Twitter at @ADagebb.