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Gov. Signs Preschool Funding Bill

The state says at least 12,000 and as many as 17,000 low-income children could benefit.

September 08, 2006|Carla Rivera | Times Staff Writer

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday signed legislation that provides $50 million to expand preschool opportunities for thousands of low-income children.

The money will target preschools operated by school districts and nonprofit organizations in neighborhoods where students score in the lowest three deciles of the Academic Performance Index.

State officials said they expected that an additional 12,000 to 17,000 children would be able to enroll in preschool classes as a result of the legislation, AB 172, which was sponsored by Assemblywoman Wilma Chan (D-Alameda).

"This money is targeted where it's needed most, and that is in the lowest-performing schools and mostly in low-income communities," Schwarzenegger said at a signing ceremony held at the Para Los Ninos Vermont Child Development Center in South Los Angeles.

"It will guarantee that more than 12,000 of our youngsters are getting high quality preschool education ... and they get a head start with their education and a head start with their lives," he said.

The money will allow preschools to hire and train more teachers, and provide literacy programs aimed at encouraging parents to read to their children.

The measure requires the state superintendent of public instruction to evaluate preschool and literacy programs to ensure that the money is well spent.

Expanding preschool enrollment has become important in California as research increasingly links the quality of early childhood experiences to greater educational achievement and higher graduation rates.

Many counties are using tobacco-tax funds to pay for universal preschool programs, despite the failure this year of a statewide universal preschool ballot measure backed by children's advocate and filmmaker Rob Reiner.

"I do a lot of work in education, and when I talk to kindergarten teachers they know the kids who have had preschool and those who have not," Chan said.

Currently, state-funded preschools serve about 100,000 children. In addition to the $50 million for preschool expansion, another $50 million in one-time funds for preschool facilities was included in the final budget for fiscal 2006-07.

Supporters said the funding would move California toward the goal of providing preschool for each 4-year-old living in areas with low-performing schools.

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carla.rivera@latimes.com

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