What California can learn from universal preschool in other states

As momentum builds in California to expand early childhood education programs, the state has the opportunity to look outside its borders and learn from other states and cities that have moved in the direction of offering universal preschool.

During his campaign, Governor-elect Gavin Newsom said he was “committed to universal preschool, equipping all of California’s children with the tools to succeed when they start kindergarten.” He also emphasized the need for expanding services to children 0-3 years old.

Advocates are now eagerly awaiting what Newsom will propose when he is sworn in as the state’s chief executive on Jan. 7.

There are only a handful of states that have aggressively moved to provide high-quality preschool to all 4-year-olds. They include Oklahoma, West Virginia, Georgia and the District of Columbia. Some other states, like New Jersey and Wisconsin, offer preschool to all 4-year-olds in certain school districts. Iowa and Alabama are both moving toward universal preschool. Some cities now also offer preschool for all 4-year-olds.

Significantly, last week incoming State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento — who has introduced three bills in the state Legislature to expand preschool to more 4-year-olds — visited preschool programs in New Jersey, Boston and New York City. They were joined by a contingent of early education advocates, practitioners and school administrators.