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By Laurel Rosenhall
Educating 4-year-olds is important to California voters - important enough that 57 percent say it's worth spending $1.4 billion a year for the state to provide all of them with preschool.
Those findings come from the latest Field Poll, which asked 1,000 California voters their opinion of a proposal that Democrats in the Legislature have said they plan to make a priority in budget negotiations this year. The plan pushed by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg would expand an existing program known as transitional kindergarten - now only available to about a quarter of the state's 4-year-olds - to create a spot for all whose parents want them to attend. It would essentially add a new, but optional, preschool grade to the public school system.
"Majorities are saying that it is very important to make publicly supported preschool available and that they thought government should be doing more," said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll.
"What was interesting is that it wasn't just localized among parents, but among the broader population of voters, which is significant."
Support for a state-funded preschool program grew from 56 percent among voters who do not have children under age 5 to 69 percent among voters who are currently raising little ones, the survey shows.
"Just about any time they're putting money into education, I'm all for it," said Toby Reid, a 37-year-old nursing home supervisor who responded to the survey by voicing support for expanding preschool.
Steinberg's proposal would create a half-day of preschool that would last at least three hours a day, with exact hours determined by local school districts. That might not work for all families but was appealing to Reid, who lives in Stockton with his wife and three sons ages 14, 6 and 1.
"We're looking for the educational value. For my family it wouldn't be a day-care alternative," Reid said.
The survey found that 51 percent of voters think state-funded preschool should be available to all 4-year-olds regardless of income, while 38 percent said public dollars should only go toward preschool for children from poor families.
EdSource, an education policy group, co-sponsored the survey.
Call Laurel Rosenhall, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1083. Follow her on Twitter @LaurelRosenhall.