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Addressing Disparities, Promoting Equity through Universal Preschool

The future of child care in California is being molded at the legislative level, as lawmakers consider a senate bill aimed at expanding the governor’s Universal Preschool plan. The findings of research around school-based preschool and the ramifications of excluding private child care providers were discussed during the Dreams Realized: Addressing Disparities and Promoting Equity through Universal Preschool webinar hosted recently by CCRC.

CCRC President & CEO Dr. Michael Olenick moderated the event, which was sponsored by First 5 LA. Panelists included Dr. Dale Farran, an Emerita Professor at Peabody College at Vanderbilt University and researcher; Dr. Iheoma U. Iruka, a Research Professor in Public Policy, Fellow at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG); and Founding Director of the Equity Research Action Coalition at FPG at UNC-Chapel Hill, and First 5 LA Executive Director Jackie Thu-Huong Wong.

“When you have universal systems, a lot of times we can almost guarantee unfortunately there’s going to be some inequity.”

Dr. Iheoma U. Iruka

Senator Connie Leyva, who introduced Senate Bill 976, spoke during the webinar about how her bill would expand the universal preschool plan.

“SB 976 would build out a complimentary mixed delivery, community-based system to ensure families have options to meet the needs of early care and learning for their children,” said Leyva, who added that families deserve the ability to select the care setting best suited to their individual needs.

The senator’s proposed bill would allow families to choose between a school-based program or community-based setting for their 4-year-old child, at no cost.

Speaking on research she conducted on the preschool program operated by the State of Tennessee, Dr. Farran said the study showed children who attended the state-sponsored program began kindergarten more prepared but quickly aligned with their counterparts, who had not been enrolled.

“We kept following the children and by the end of kindergarten, all those differences had disappeared,” said Dr. Dale Farran. “By third grade, in state achievement tests, the children who did not attend pre-k were scoring higher on math and science than the children who did.”

Furthermore, Farran said the study revealed another concerning trend for children who had been in the school-based program.

“What was more alarming to me, even, the children who had been in pre-k were significantly more likely to be suspended or expelled,” she said. “By sixth grade, they were more likely to be expelled for major violations – bullying, fighting, harassment, those kind of things that are significant behavior problems. Our concern is we’re seeing both an effect on achievement, but also on behavior that’s in the wrong direction.”

Farran said this outcome is likely due to the fact that school-based programs are much more didactic, focusing on math and reading concepts, than child care settings, which tend to support emotional and social development. Dr. Iheoma U. Iruka agreed.

“We need to make sure we don’t take away the word play and we need to make sure to define it. Play is the process where children learn to be brilliant,” said Iruka. “Play is where children learn to negotiate, that’s where they figure out their language, that’s where they learn to explore, that’s where a lot of the executive functioning happens. Play is learning for young children and to make it anything but that is to the detriment of not only children themselves but the country as well and our data keeps showing that.”

Iruka noted that existing social systems are inherently exclusive of minority groups and said anything considered “universal” should be looked at closely.

“When you have universal systems, a lot of times we can almost guarantee unfortunately there’s going to be some inequity,” she said. “We know California is one of the most linguistically diverse states in our union, so are we going to ensure that our workforce is linguistically, culturally aligned with our population?”

To end the webinar, First 5 LA Executive Director Jackie Thu-Huong Wong drew attention to the misconceptions around child care and the work of providers. She shared a personal story about how her mother taught her to read, speak another language, and sing, calling her an exceptional educator even though she had no special teaching license.

“We operate in a system that has stigmatized early care as though they’re not educators,” said Wong. “It’s about valuing a multifaceted system of early care and education and no, they’re not babysitters.”

Wong praised child care providers for supporting children in a comprehensive way and called for recognition of their specialized skills.

“I thank Senator Leyva for authoring this bill because it’s about righteousness and justice,” said Wong. “Not all families are the same. We want to see that child for their wholistic needs.”

Thank you to the event cosponsors: First5California, Every Child California, and the Resource & Referral Network.

Below is a complete list of Q&As submitted by the audience and answered by CCRC.

  1. Won’t taking the Pre-K aged children out of the private centers hurt the private centers? 
    1. Research from states that have implemented school-based pre-k shows private child care programs experienced a reduction in the number of 4-year-olds in their care. Because the cost of care for 4-year-olds balances out the higher cost of care for infants, the state sponsored program decreased enrollment for private providers. This created financial hardship for providers and often led to closures.
  • How will SB 976 include the private centers and how will private centers receive public funding? What will be the requirements to receive this funding?
    • To ensure universal preschool is widely available throughout the state and that each individual working in a universal preschool classroom or setting meets the necessary requirements, the bill would include financial support for current and aspiring universal preschool site supervisors, teachers, and other support staff in obtaining required credentials and degrees to work in the preschool classroom or setting. Those funds would be distributed equitably, in the highest need areas. Resource and Referral agencies would be tasked with identifying the full range of existing child care services in the areas of service, and the development of a resource file of those services, including but not be limited to family child care homes, public and private child care programs, full-time and part-time programs, and infant, preschool, and extended care programs.
  • What is “push down”?
    • Pushing academic standards from one grade down to the next. That might include pushing fluent reading skills from first grade to kindergarten, then to preschool. Push down is the practice of focusing on specific academic readiness skills at a progressively earlier age.
  • What are kids getting at home/kin-care settings that is setting them up for success versus the kids who were in pre-K?
    • Dr. Farran said her research shows there are biases against poor families and society assumes that by being home, children do poorly. But when you consider the freedom of these children to play with children of different ages around the neighborhood, that was a “better environment for children.”
  • What was the role of family engagement in the preschool programs?
    • Families are invited and encouraged to actively participate in preschool programs as essential decision-makers about what they feel is essential to enhancing their children’s growth and development both socially and academically that is developmentally appropriate.
  • Can we expect growth in the labor market for state-funded child care programs if there is a universal plan in place and private care is shrinking? Are private centers being subsidized in this plan? Is there data from other states that we can guesstimate from?
    • The early care and learning market will expand in universal mixed delivery system as evidenced by New Mexico who will offer grants to early care and education business owner to expand existing child care centers or create new ones. Data reflects private community-based programs are at-risk of shrinking or closure without a mixed delivery system. In addition, data from a variety of states who have implemented a mixed delivery system for preschool indicate “parental choice and the health of community’s early care and education market” .
  • Will there be family supports offered for at risk kids in programs?
    • The bill includes a provision for trauma-informed training and coaching to child care providers working with children, and children of parenting youth, in the foster care system. Training shall include, but not be limited to, infant and toddler development and research-based, trauma-informed best care practices. Child care providers will be provided with coaching to assist them in applying training techniques and strategies for working with children, and children of parenting youth, in foster care.
  • My takeaway from Dr. Farran’s research outcome is that the skills kids need to be “ready” for Kindergarten are essentially social-emotional and not “academic.” Would she agree?
    • Yes, Dr. Farrans’s stated and published position is the all children whether affluent or impoverish should have access to early care and learning programs that is play-based and is free of drill, skill and kill rote learning and instead preschool settings where they are listened and asked open-ended question to vs. 10 minute teacher directed lectures.
  1. Is SB 976 only for state and federally subsidized preschool programs or will it include private and non-profit preschool providers that serve students who do not qualify for subsidized care, e.g. children from middle income families?
    1. The bill includes universal preschool providers operating through alternative payment programs serving licensed community-based child care centers, family child care homes, and family child care home education networks. SB 976 would prevent fees from being charged for either the issuance or renewal of each child development permit for participating child development programs. The bill would require the State Department of Education, in consultation with the State Department of Social Services, to offer financial support to current and aspiring universal preschool site supervisors, teachers, and other support staff in obtaining required credentials and degrees to work in the preschool classroom or setting, as provided. SB 976 would eliminate requirements relating to eligibility and the fee schedule, and instead would provide that the universal preschool program shall be free, inclusive, and available to all 3- and 4-year-olds.  
  1. If passed, when will SB 976 take effect?
    1. If passed, SB 976 will take effect on July 1, 2022 upon the Governor signing the bill into law.
  1. I have a large family childcare in a residential zoning area. I would like to convert the child care into a center or preschool. Given the zoning I am in what solutions do I have? Does a Conditional Use Permit remedy my problem?
    1. As a current large family child care home seeking to convert to a child care center is it best to check with your city’s/county’s zoning requirements. Zoning permits (also learn more here) may vary from city to city and county to county.
  1. How can the child care reimbursement rate reform be designed in a way that will address the inequalities of access and care in high need communities? Is it about raising the rate floor or having a rate tiered system, or a combination of both?
    1. The rate established by the contract with the agency would be derived by dividing the total dollar amount of the contract by the minimum child day of average daily enrollment level of service required. Public funds would be withheld from an agency that does not pay at least the minimum a living wage to each of its employees. The goal is to raise the floor rates for all providers to sufficiently operate their business.
  1. If AB 2806 passes, will it protect the children in UPK/TK?
    1. AB 2806 (B. Rubio), Preschool Expulsion and Suspension provides provisions to programs administered by the California Department of Social Services.
  1. How are children with disabilities being included into the universal options, credentials, and assessments? Will there be more widespread training and credentialing for providing care for children with disabilities from historically underrepresented populations and locations? Will there be partnerships with the local DORs?
    1. The bill creates special provisions for children with disabilities or special needs, including intellectual disabilities, hearing impairments, speech or language impairments, visual impairments, serious emotional disturbance, orthopedic impairments, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairments, or specific learning disabilities, who need special education and related services. These children would have an active individualized learning program and receive early intervention services or appropriate special education and related services.
  1. Are pre-k students in the school settings going to have IEPs created as part of the care of 3- and 4-year-old? Who is expected to create the IEPs and facilitate the goals and objectives on these? How is that training being incorporated into standards? How is that going to be facilitated across the board with the participating private care centers, too?
    1. Under SB 976, active individualized family service plans will be ordered for children under age 3 who have been determined to be eligible for early intervention services. This would include an infant or toddler with a developmental delay or established risk condition, or who is at high risk of having a substantial developmental disability. These children would receive early intervention services.

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