Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, recently wrote a column for Huffington Post, arguing that America has “a moral obligation to provide a great education to each and every child, and we must create a new majority to make this happen.” I couldn’t agree more, and the time is now. We cannot afford to wait another three decades. Waiting patiently for change will cause the US to become a second-tier nation.
Quality public education is the great equalizer; a bridge to a vibrant and growing middle class. The solution sets have long been before us and today we are seriously discussing how to make some of these a reality. These are exciting times to be an educator.
Ms. Weingarten’s list of community-supported solutions mirrors mine: early childhood education safe and nurturing schools; supporting and valuing teachers (I add recruitment of top-tier college graduates to the teaching profession); welcoming families; and an engaging curriculum that includes rich visual and performing arts courses. I would say the aforementioned list is in priority order.
County Office of Education trustees Grace Mah, Darcie Green and I have been working with staff and community leaders to form a “new majority” and raise money to offer every 4-year-old high quality preschool with credentialed teachers. Already, 25 percent of the 4-year-olds in Santa Clara County have access to pre-Kindergarten programs through a law pushed by Supervisor Joe Simitian when he was in the state Senate.
In a meeting I attended last week with trustee Mah, Scott Moore, chief policy advisor with Early Edge California, spoke optimistically about California’s legislature making universal access to Pre-K for all of the state’s 4-year-olds a reality. An unexpected increase in state revenue could be used to fund the $1.3 billion needed to hire credentialed teachers and other staff to make this critical investment possible.
It appears Gov. Jerry Brown might be prepared to make universal preschool access part of his January 2014 budget message. Doing so would set a new path to addressing income inequality and taking a wrecking ball to California’s overbuilt prison system.
Research shows that children who begin kindergarten ready to learn are significantly less likely to commit crimes. In fact, the research goes on to say that for every $1 invested, society gains $7-18 in reduced costs and reliance on assistance for food, shelter and unemployment.
Once we have universal Pre-K for each and every 4-year-old, we can begin to use local and federal dollars to build quality preschool programs for all 3-year-olds. The more years of high quality learning experiences the more lasting the effect. Studies show that the first five years of life is when the brain develops in extraordinary ways. Rich learning experiences heighten the chances for success in life.
Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion and can be found weekly on San Jose Inside.