A new survey shows that spending on pre-kindergarten programs barely budged nationwide in 2012-13, with drops in California offsetting gains in some of the 40 other states that offer pre-kindergarten.
This morning's report from the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University in New Jersey comes as Gov. Jerry Brown releases a revised version of his January spending plan. Like the January plan, the revised plan does not include money for pre-kindergarten. That sets the stage for negotiations on the issue — a priority for legislative Democrats — over the coming weeks.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Brown did not rule out signing a budget that included money for the program. Referring to the program's supporters, the governor said they believe the extra year of education would make everything "hunky dory."
The institute's report finds that pre-kindergarten programs around the country are just beginning to emerge from years of recessionary budget cuts. Total state funding nationwide increased by $30 million during 2012-13, to $5.4 billion, about a 1 percent increase.
In California, though, enrollment dropped by almost 15,000 spots. Another four states had decreases of more than 1,000 students, according to the report.
"While more states increased enrollment than decreased it, the size of the decrease in large states such as California and Pennsylvania pulled the national total down," the report reads.
The study also judged pre-K programs on their meeting the institute's quality standards, such as teachers having university degrees, receiving at least 15 hours in-service training, and other benchmarks. California was among the five states that met fewer than one-half of the 10 benchmarks in 2012-13, according to the report.
"Our nation has emerged from the recession, but preschool-age children are being left to suffer its effects," NIEER director Steve Barnett said in a statement.
California's transitional kindergarten program, when fully phased in, will cover only one-third of four-year-olds. Democrats in the Senate and Assembly want to expand transitional kindergarten to cover all four-year-olds. In addition, Senate Bill 1123 would create "Strong Start" early learning services for children from birth to three years old.
"I think we have a real opportunity to transfer California from one of the nation's biggest under-performers" to a national leader in early childhood development, said Deborah Kong, president of Early Edge California, which backs the proposals. "We still have a lot of work to do."
Editor's note: This post was updated at 9:15 a.m. May 13 to include comments from Gov. Jerry Brown.
PHOTO: Kindergarten teacher Katherine Hoffmore, 48, left, works on a bead project with McKayla Parker, 6, right, where they learn to repeat patterns at Greer Elementary School in Sacramento on Jan. 17, 2013.