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California Commission Issues 'Clarion Call' For Early-Education Reform

A commission of heavy hitters in California education has come together to recommend a wholesale overhaul of the Golden State's early-care and education system for children under 5.

The commission, convened by the non-profit childhood advocacy group Common Sense Media, is recommending that all 4-year-olds in California have access to transitional kindergarten (a public school-based preschool program) or other high-quality preschool. All children 3 and younger should also have access to high-quality care regardless of their ability to pay, the commission's report states.

Further, the commission, which released it's findings on April 13, would like the state to consolidate its 18 early-childhood care and education programs, which are currently overseen by 11 state agencies, into one coherent system.

And for good measure, the members would like a comprehensive preventative health-care program, a public awareness campaign on the importance of the early years, and a more engaged business community.

"Home to more young children than any other state, and known for its innovative spirit, California should be leading the way to provide children with high-quality early learning and health services," Deborah Kong, president of Early Edge California, said in a statement responding to the release of the report. 

California is home to 3 million children under the age of 5, approximately half of whom are first- or second-generation immigrants. About 76 percent of the state's under-5 population are children of color. And the childhood poverty rate is the worst in the nation when the state's towering cost of living is taken into account, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

In recent years, fewer than half of the state's children who qualify for publicly funded early education have had a seat in a program. And the state's public school-based program follows a very strange law that allows only one quarter of the state's 4-year-olds in each year, based purely on the month in which they were born.

Educators Richard Carranza, the superintendent of San Francisco Unified School District, and Linda Darling Hammond, an education professor at Stanford University, are two of the big names on the commission. They're joined by technologists Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce.com, and Lisa Jackson, a vice president at Apple. Ivelisse Estrada, a senior vice president at Univision, former U.S. Rep. George Miller, and Darrell Steinberg, the retired California State Senate President Pro Tempore, among others, filled out the 12-person commission.

Whether their clout will be enough to sway a skeptical governor and a cash-strapped legislature to take enough action that all 3 million of California's children under 5-years-olds suddenly get a top-notch care and education system, remains to be seen.

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