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San Diego Preschools Will Benefit From Proposed State Budget

Students in the Neighborhood House Associations childcare program enjoy their...

Photo by Joe Hong

Above: Students in the Neighborhood House Associations childcare program enjoy their outdoor time. Jan. 16, 2020

In 20 years of working in early childhood education for 20 years, Damon Carson has never seen as much funding for preschool and childcare in California as he's seeing now.

But the surge in funding in the state budget over the past two years proposed budget hasn't addressed the entirety of issues facing California’s youngest learners. While Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration is aggressively expanding services for students before they reach Kindergarten, educators say there’s a long way to go in San Diego County.

Listen to this story by Joe Hong.

“The more you invest in early education and high-quality experiences for children, equals a greater return as they become adults,” Carson said.

Carson is the general manager of education at the Neighborhood House Association, which serves 7000 students from low-income families at more than 100 sites across San Diego County.

After Newsom was elected, the Neighborhood House Association benefited from his push for universal preschool and more accessible childcare. With the state’s nearly $2.5 billion dollar budget for early childhood, Carson was able to give teachers a 2.5% pay raise. The association is also in the process of adding more than 50 spots for students.

Reported by Joe Hong , Video by Andi Dukleth

After adding 10,000 spots in state preschools in the current budget, the state is proposing to add 10,000 more by 2021. The budget calls for the formation of a Department of Early Childhood Development within California Health and Human Services Agency.

The investment in early education would pay dividends in the long-term, Carson says, as enrollment in preschool reduces achievement gaps for low-income students in high school and onward.

It’s not just about accepting more students, Carson said. It’s about providing them a high-quality academic experience. A key step, he says, is making sure teachers are properly compensated.

“They’re a tremendous resource,” Carson said. “We can put them on par with some of the higher-earning teachers we see in high school.”

Even with the unprecedented state funding, preschools need more support to fully meet the needs of their communities, Carson said. This is especially true for families that don’t quite meet the income requirements for state or federally funded preschools.

“Our waitlist is thousands of families,” he said. “We receive phone calls each and every day and hear the stories of working families, families that are considered barely over income.”

To qualify for state preschool, a family of four must have below a total gross annual income of about $80,000.

Additionally, while public school districts can pass bonds to renovate classrooms and repair facilities, preschools and state-funded child care centers need to take those costs out of their budgets.

“We have aging facilities all throughout our early childhood community, and investments to really improve their conditions so they can be bright spots in our San Diego communities,” he said.

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Joe Hong
Education Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an education reporter, I'm always looking for stories about learning. My favorite education stories put a student's face on bigger policy issues. I regularly sift through enrollment data, test scores and school budgets, but telling student-centered stories is my top priority.

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