Californians have an excellent opportunity to promote economic development on June 6 by voting yes on Proposition 82, the "Preschool for All Act" that will guarantee a preschool education for every 4-year-old Californian whose parents choose the option.
Why invest in educating 4-year-olds? Because study after study has shown that childrenwho have the benefit of preschool complete their education more quickly, effectively and at a higher level than those who don’t have that small one-year investment.
Economists at the RAND Corp. report that every class of California preschool graduates will result in 10,000 more high school graduates for the state, and an additional $2.7 billion contribution to the state economy. Immediate cost savings will be seen in fewer grade repeats and reduced need for special education.
At San Francisco State University, we have long seen the benefits of early childhood education.
Nearly 10 years ago, our campus became the first university affiliate of Jumpstart, the program that partners college students with preschoolers to foster the children’s literacy and social skills development. In addition, since 1999 SFSU has overseen San Francisco Head Start, the program that supports low-income children’s development.
For decades, investments in education helped fuel California’s economy and the development of the state. Yet today, the state’s "report card" measures lag behind the national average — in all categories, from math and reading to science and writing. Our public colleges and universities have needed to invest millions in remediation programs to bring reading, writing and math up to speed.
Californians don’t view themselves as average, much less below average. Clearly, we have much to do in order to once again make our students, and our state, competitive with the rest of the nation.
Catching up with universal preschool would be an important first step. At least 40 other states offer publicly funded pre-K services, with universal programs in New York, Massachusetts and Georgia and other states. Currently, California’s preschool education rate lags five points behind the national average, ranking 37th in the nation for preschool/child care enrollment rates.
Some opponents ofthe pre-K initiative say California should first fix K-12 education before spending resources on a new set of students. But education is not a process that one turns "on" or "off" depending on age, location or time of day. Children — and adults — are constantly learning, on a never-ending continuum. The sooner we place young minds on that continuum, the better.
Providing younger students with a more solid foundation, and an early introduction to the structures, peer support and goal-oriented academic environment does help fix K-12 education. Like any investment, the benefits accrue and compound over time — as other states have proven.
» In Michigan, pre-K "alumni" start kindergarten with better language, literacy, math, music and social skills.
» In Georgia, 82 percent of pre-K graduates exceeded national norms by the end of first grade — in overall math skills, phonemic awareness, expressive language, and recognition of letters and words.
» In Oklahoma, pre-K improved children’s performance on prereading and reading skills, prewriting and spelling skills, and both math reasoning and problem-solving abilities.
Studies such as these have convinced the vast majority of professional educators that universal preschool has tremendous potential — despite a few rare dissenters attempting to speak on behalf of the field.
The effects of solid education at an early age are expected to extend beyond the classroom. The RAND study estimates that for the Bay Area alone, universal preschool will net a 6 percent to 7 percent reduction in child abuse or neglect, and an 11 percent reduction in juvenile petitions.
Prop. 82 is a vote for the future of our state, an investment not only in bridging the
educational achievement gap, but in ensuring our ability to compete.Robert A. Corrigan is president of San Francisco State University and 2006 chairmanof the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.