Seems simple. It may be. But without this type of learning now, preschool advocates say Agustin wouldn't be ready for kindergarten next year, and would be more likely to need remedial schooling in the future and less likely to graduate high school.
That's the conclusion of a study issued Wednesday by nonprofit Preschool California. It says that 4-year-olds who attend preschool generally do better in school, are more likely to go on to college and are less likely to commit crimes than other children as they get older.
So strong are the study's findings that the advocacy group and its supporters sent a 300-member delegation to Sacramento Wednesday in an effort to persuade lawmakers to make voluntary preschool a regular part of the California education system paid for by the taxpayers. If no legislation is enacted, the group wants the issue to be put before the voters as an initiative. "Early learning of young children really does have long-term impacts," said Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University and a Preschool California advocate.
There are thousands of preschools in California, and hundreds of millions of dollars are pumped into local programs through Head Start and the state preschool program for needy kids, but less than half of preschool-aged children in California are enrolled in a program, according to the California Research Bureau.
For every three students like Agustin at the Ontario Head Start preschool, one child is on the waiting list, said Ramona Erwin, who oversees eligibility requirements at the school.
Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Darrell Steinberg, D- Sacramento, has authored Assembly Bill 56 to make preschool available to any child whose parents want him to attend. He said that the state's financial crisis isn't a good enough reason to delay implementation of the program, which he acknowledged would cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
"The earlier that children get the opportunity to learn, the better they will do in life," said Steinberg, who also leads the Assembly Select Committee on High Priority Schools. "Even in the most difficult of times, we can't lose our vision."
Susanna Cooper, a spokeswoman for Preschool California, lauded Steinberg's efforts, but said AB56, if passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, still would not guarantee universal preschool. AB56 does not include a funding component.
Preschool California's newly released report "Kids Can't Wait to Learn: Achieving Voluntary Preschool for All in California," said $7 is saved for every dollar spent on preschool because people who attend preschool are less likely to be placed in special education and to be held back a grade, and less likely to commit crime.
"I think it's absolutely wonderful because we see the benefits of preschool," said Roberta York, director of Preschool Services for San Bernardino County. "The only side I'm uncomfortable with is: Who is going to pay for this?"
Robert Manwaring, the K-12 director for the Legislative Analyst's Office, a nonpartisan fiscal and policy advising group, said it's difficult to see what the fiscal impact would be because there isn't a specific proposal yet. It would be cheaper if preschools were reimbursed for children on an hourly basis, rather than adding another grade level to the existing school system, because school districts are reimbursed the same amount regardless of grade level, Manwaring said.
The analyst recommends that if a state preschool program is adopted, it be implemented over a few years so it doesn't cause another teacher crisis like when the state implemented class-size reductions and there were not enough teachers.
Preschool provides critical learning during the formative years when brain development is rapid. After attending preschool, children will be more prepared for kindergarten because they will already be used to socializing and listening, and will possess a variety of skills needed to begin reading, writing, math and science.
"Their little brains are just like wet sponges," said Pat Creek, director of Eagle's Nest Christian Preschool in Upland. "Like a computer, it all goes in."
Preschool teachers can identify problems a child may have and begin to fix them before they start school, the report stated.
Karen Ellis, a teacher at Eagle's Nest, once noticed that a student wrote backward, so she recommended the boy's mother have him tested for dyslexia.
"They were able to catch it and he was almost 5 years old," Ellis said. "We can spot these things."
A year later Ellis got a call from the boy's mother, who said that he was doing well in kindergarten.
According to the report, many people are priced out of Weston Preschool or are on waiting lists. The federal Head Start and state preschool programs serve only low-income people, so middle-income families fall through the cracks, the report stated.
San Bernardino County provides about 5,000 children with help through those programs. Plus school districts throughout the county implement their own programs with local, state and federal funds. Yet only 40 percent of preschool-aged children in the county are enrolled.
James Bell Jr. of Redlands is very supportive of the idea of state support for preschools. His son, James III, 5, attended a state- funded preschool at Lugonia Elementary School in Redlands, where he finished in the spring and is now in kindergarten. James III benefited tremendously from the program, he said.
"I wish they were (state sponsored), absolutely, 100 percent," Bell said. "He's used to the structure of school. He just started kindergarten and has confidence."
Preschool California is a 1-year-old nonprofit that aims to spur a state-funded voluntary preschool program for all 4-year-olds in California. On Wednesday, the group released a report that outlines 22 years of research devoted to understanding the affects of preschool on people.
The report said the following are some of the benefits for people who attend preschool:
They are less likely to be placed in special education or held back a grade.
They score higher on standardized tests in reading and math.
They behave better in class.
They are less likely to become involved in crime.
They are more likely to graduate from high school and attend college.
VOTE IN THE POLL on the Daily Bulletin News page: FUNDING PRESCHOOLS POLL
Staff writers David Drucker and Wes Hughes contributed to this report.