Anthony Rendon, who was elected the next speaker of the state Assembly this week, made it clear in advance that expanding pre-kindergarten programs would be his highest priority.
Rendon headed an organization, Plaza de la Raza Child Development Services, that prepared children for kindergarten, before being elected to the Assembly in 2012.
“They made the local schools better. They made parents more involved in their communities and more vigilant,” Rendon told The Sacramento Bee in a profile after being designated as the next speaker.
“Staving off health maladies that often manifest themselves later in a child’s growth or life, you see how these things tend to be caught early in these types of programs,” he continued. “It’s something that has benefits way beyond in-classroom benefits.”
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Last Thursday, just four days before the speakership vote, Gov. Jerry Brown indirectly rejected the pleas of Rendon, other Democratic politicians, unions and child advocacy groups to expand early childhood services.
He proposed a 2016-17 budget that provides no new financing for pre-K, but seeks to combine several existing programs into a new block grant system that would allow local school districts to decide how the money is to be used.
It’s similar in thrust to Brown’s approach to K-12 education, which has been to eliminate “categorical aids” that target money for specific purposes and provide the money with few strings to local schools.
The new pre-K pot would total $1.6 billion, and each school district would receive at least as much money as it is getting now.
The proposal’s biggest impact would be felt by the state’s “transitional kindergarten” program that provides an extra year of schooling to children born between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2 each year regardless of family incomes – a boon to affluent families by relieving them of providing care and schooling out of their own pockets.
Under Brown’s proposal, school districts could devote the money to children of low-income families and charge fees to those from more affluent families.
Brown’s plan also would give school districts power over funds that now go to nonprofit or private organizations.
Rendon reiterated to reporters after his speakership election this week that early childhood education is “very important to me,” signaling that he would make it a personal cause when he and other legislative leaders negotiate a final version of the budget in June.
However, Brown’s disdain for new entitlement programs is well-established, and he wants to put an extra $2 billion into the state’s rainy-day fund rather than expand the health, welfare and education commitments fellow Democrats treasure.
The early childhood issue, therefore, will be a test of the mild-mannered Rendon’s political acumen and resolve as Brown seemingly draws a line in the playground sandbox on restraining spending and preparing the state for a recession he believes to be inevitable.