By Mary Lou Goeke and Carole Leigh Hutton Special to the Sentinel
A state Senate proposal to make a major investment in high-quality early learning for low-income children is an opportunity to make California a place where all kids get a fair start. The Senate proposal calls for establishment of the California Pre-kindergarten Program, a multi-year reinvestment package in California's early learning systems. It would provide access for 234,000 low-income 4-year-olds to high-quality pre-K and open channels for younger kids as well.
This would have a profound impact on the future for so many low-income children and their families. United Way's vision is a caring, engaged and vibrant community where families and individuals achieve their full potential through education, health and financial stability. Over the years, we have learned that to reach that goal, children must start school prepared to learn. But for far too many children in our community, that isn't yet possible.
We know that quality early education is a key to avoiding the achievement gap between poor kids and their middle or higher-income peers. Yet in California, preschool enrollment slots have plummeted and quality is inconsistent across programs. California only serves half of our eligible preschool-aged children in either State Preschool or Head Start, and just 6 percent of the state's most vulnerable infants and toddlers receive the high-quality care and support they need to thrive.
In Santa Clara County, where over a quarter of children are eligible for State Preschool, more than 10,000 eligible children are left unserved.
In Santa Cruz County, every ZIP code has unmet need for subsidized preschool. From Boulder Creek to Watsonville, there are pockets where all of the children eligible for subsidized preschool are not served. We can do better. And the proposal in the state Senate is a good start.
This is our chance to put the children in our community on the path to realizing their boundless potential. We urge the governor and the state Legislature to seize this opportunity in this year's budget to do something big for our youngest learners. Let's put our children — and our future — first.
Mary Lou Goeke is executive director of the United Way of Santa Cruz County, while Carole Leigh Hutton heads United Way Silicon Valley.