Preschool funding up in the air |

Preschool funding up in the air

Pre-school administrators are concerned the building blocks of California’s public education system may be knocked down by the state’s ever-worsening budget crisis.

In May, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced a nearly 50 percent reduction to pre-school services, cutting about $420 million out of the state’s $840 million budget in an attempt to hack away at the state’s projected $19.1 billion deficit.

The cuts are on hold and now don’t look likely, State Department of Education analysts say. But, the state’s budget – due July 1 – hasn’t been passed.

As a result, some of the slots in subsidized preschools aren’t being funded.

The move cut daycare for some students receiving subsidies at Union Hill School District’s state-funded program, said superintendent Susie Barry. About 240 students attend the school’s preschool, after-school and child care programs, Barry said.

“Over the summer, we were able to make some accommodations for our subsidized families,” she said. “But we haven’t been able to accommodate them since school started. It’s such an extensive program that it poses a serious problem for a lot of children.”

Nevada City’s preschool dropped from two classrooms to one from last year, dropping from 24 students to 12 due to budget cuts.

Most children who attend public preschools on a subsidy do so because they come from moderate-to-low-income families. If a family with one child earns less than $42,000 annually, they qualify for the program.

“These are the students most at risk to enter kindergarten with a learning gap,” said Nancy Remley, an education administrator at the state’s Department of Education. “For us, it’s heartbreaking, because these are the students who need a boost in their early literacy and pre-mathematics skills.”

While all of the 48 students in Grass Valley’s preschool fall under the low-income subsidy guidelines, none were cut due to the unfinished budget, said Child Development Director Carol Viola.

Only certain state funding mechanisms were cut, and federal Head Start funding remains in place.

Of the district’s preschool enrollment, 40 students fall at or below the federally subsidized guidelines, meaning a one-student family earns less than $10,830 per year, Viola said.

“The federal funding is critical. It allows us to run our programs,” Viola said.

While funding isn’t expected to be cut at the state or federal level, the question of when the state budget will be passed, opening up some access to subsidized money, is still very much unanswered.

“This week, the governor said he may not sign a budget until he leaves office” in January, Remley said. “That would be devastating.”

To contact Staff Writer Kyle Magin, e-mail or call (530) 477-4239.

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