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Prop 82 would ensure preschool for all children

An initiative on tomorrow's primary ballot would ensure that all California children go to pre-school. In fact, Proposition 82 would make it a constitutional right, with the funding coming from a tax on the wealthiest Californians. Ellen Ciurczak reports on Prop. 82.

Precious Angelique Lewis is six-years-old, and according to the adults who know her, she's a shining example of what pre-school can do for a child.

On a gray, windy day at the park, Precious takes a seat on the swings, relaxing after a successful day at kindergarten.

She and her mother Rebecca practice Spanish as Precious swings through the air. Rebecca Lewis says there's no question preschool gave her daughter a boost in life.

Lewis: "Preschool was extremely instrumental in Precious's ability to go into kindergarten without much effort. She learned phoenics, she learned her numbers. She learned to share, she learned how to establish and maintain friendships."

Last year, Precious introduced herself in Spanish at an event publicizing the idea of free pre-school for four year olds.
She spoke just before the man behind that idea -- movie director Rob Reiner -- appeared on stage publicizing his plan to tax the wealthiest Californians to pay for the program.

Reiner is now noticeably absent from promoting what became Proposition 82, after a campaign funding controversy arose earlier this year. Instead, Ed Condon, executive director of the California Head Start Association, is helping to push, what he says are the measure's benefits.

Condon: "What we know of preschool today will not be what we know of preschool in 10 years. It'll be a much higher quality, much more effective year of learning than we currently have."

Condon helped write Prop 82, which calls for new curriculum standards to prepare a child for grades K-through-3. Classes must be kept to 20 students for every teacher. In addition, by the year 2014, all preschool teachers must have a four year college degree and a new early learning teaching credential.

Leahy: "Prop 82 authorizes a tax to pay for an entitlement."

Michael Leahy is past president of the California Montessori Council. Its 546 Montessori schools unanimously oppose Prop 82, in part, because their teachers do not meet the credentials called for under the measure.

The tax Leahy refers to would affect individuals earning more than $400,000 a year. The 1.7 percent surcharge on personal income is expected to raise more than $2.5 billion a year to pay for Prop 82. Opponents like Leahy say if there's to be a tax on the wealthy, the revenue would be better spent elsewhere.

Leahy: "When you consider all of the potential emergencies the state could face - a flu pandemic, the levees breaking on the Sacramento River Delta, the big one either in the Bay Area or Los Angeles, each of those would require the state government to come in and spend billions to correct the situations."

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office estimates 62 percent of California's four-year-olds already attend public and private preschool.
According to the LAO, total preschool enrollment would rise to 80 percent over a decade, at a cost of six thousand dollars per student annually.

Various studies have been done on Prop 82. One by the Reason Foundation in Los Angeles finds, contrary to what the LAO says, just 22,000 new four year olds would enroll in pre-school under Prop. 82, costing the state $109,000 dollars per year per child.

Another study by the National Institute on Early Education Research in New Jersey finds free universal pre-school would result in significant educational benefits to children.

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