LOS ANGELES - Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said Saturday that Senate Democrats will make pre-kindergarten a priority in budget negotiations with Gov. Jerry Brown this spring, calling last year's school funding overhaul inadequate to address shortcomings in public education.
"No funding formula will prevent a 16-year-old from dropping out of high school because she fell behind years earlier," Steinberg told delegates at the California Democratic Party's annual convention. "And no funding formula addresses the reality that the achievement gap is formed well before, well before children arrive in kindergarten."
Steinberg's remarks constituted a glancing response to Gov. Jerry Brown's continued focus on a school funding overhaul that shifts more money to low-income and English language learners. Brown has said he will consider any proposals by legislative Democrats to expand the state's pre-kindergarten program, but he did not propose funding for any such measure in his January budget plan.
Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and other legislative Democrats have proposed allowing every 4-year-old in the state to attend pre-kindergarten classes, at a potential cost of about $1 billion to the state general fund.
The pre-kindergarten proposal is one of several points of contention Brown is likely to have with members of his own party in the Legislature this year, with social service advocates and their liberal allies pushing him to approve increased spending.
Steinberg, who is terming out, said "there is plenty of unfinished business to take care of" at the Capitol this year.
He said, "This is our time."
PHOTO: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, addresses the California Democratic Party convention in Los Angeles on March 8, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders