(photo credit: Larry Darling)
It would be not be a stretch to say that 2013 has been the year of early childhood education advocacy. From President Obama’s State of the Union appeal for universal preschool access to our own reporting on transitional kindergarten in California, Early Learning Development (ELD) has entrenched itself as a topic worth talking about.
But one area that hasn’t received as much ink in regard to ELD is how it stands to fare under California’s new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). LCFF puts control of school budgets in the hands of local districts while also giving additional dollars to the districts with especially high-need students. In an effort to shed some light on how the two acronyms will interact, Children Now held a webinar late last month highlighting some of the challenges and opportunities ELD faces as LCFF is phased in.
“The good news is LCFF does make sure that additional dollars are getting to kids in need,” said Ted Lempert, president of Children Now. “In many cases, districts can use those dollars in early learning in really trying to make sure those students have the support they need.”
Earlier this year, Los Angeles Universal Preschool CEO Celia Ayala spoke to California Forward about the benefits of early education versus intervention down the road. “When children get what they need early, and when we’re working with them and there’s an early intervention, it is so much less costly as opposed to a prevention program that starts in 8th or 10th grade,” Ayala said. “Every dollar we invest, the rate of return is so much higher.”
Samantha Tran, senior director of education policy for Children Now, agrees. Tran points at the available research as evidence that early learning development provides not just benefits in the short term, but in the long term as well. “We’ve got sound research that talks about how quality programming increases on-time grade completion, increases high school graduation rates, and makes it less likely a student will be placed in special ed.”
Tran says that LCFF offers a major opportunity for ELD programming because of how much input comes from the community as far as how specific dollars should be spent. ELD took a huge hit due to the Great Recession, and education advocates view LCFF as a chance to get those programs back on the books.
“Communities are beginning to pull their way out of the Recession and are thinking about investments, and LCFF does create a really important opportunity,” Tran said. “In the short term, we can provide more high quality services for children 0-5 and school leaders will be seeing the value and impact this has on K-12 outcomes. In addition, in terms of long range strategy, the public and policy makers will also see the contribution and see why ELD is so essential.”
If California expects to turn its rock-bottom education ranking around, it’s critical that ELD can establish a firm foothold in the foundation of California’s education funding.