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California Democrats Aim to Roll Out Pre-K Expansion

California would be the next state to create voluntary, preschool for an estimated 350,000 4-year-olds if Democrats in the state legislature can garner support from their Republican colleagues.

The effort, which would supplement the current Transitional Kindergarten program now available for certain 4-year-olds, would be phased in over five years beginning in the 2015-16 school year and may cost taxpayers $1 billion annually.

That expense is far worth the gain to individuals and the larger community, said Sen. Darrell Steinberg, author of the Kindergarten Readiness Act.

"Expanding transitional kindergarten for all 4-year-olds is the unfinished business of last year's important school reform of the Local Control Funding Formula, where we devote more resources to the kids who need it the most," Steinberg said in a statement.

One of the aims, he said, is to give immigrants and low-income students a jump start.

The legislation "recognizes the reality that an achievement gap among children is present well before children first step through the kindergarten door, and that investing in early education is the wise investment,"  said Deborah Kong, president of Early Edge California, an Oakland-based advocacy group, in a statement. "We now have a clear path forward for ensuring all children start school prepared to learn."

Currently, California offers Transitional Kindergarten—-a two-year-kindergarten program—for those children who have fall birthdays and are thus ineligible for traditional kindergarten due to a summer cutoff date.

Today only 1 in 4 children is eligible for the program; only half of low-income children are served by state Head Start preschool programs, Steinberg said.

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