Early education is making strides in California, but staffing shortages remain an issue.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced his proposal for the state’s 2023-24 budget last month, which allocates $128.5 billion for K-12 education and community colleges. The proposal highlights investment in early education, including expanding universal transitional kindergarten, but support for students should coincide with support for educators, local education leaders said.
Scott Moore, CEO of early education nonprofit Kidango, said the No. 1 challenge for school districts and nonprofits is finding quality educators.
“It’s hard to serve children if you don’t have teachers,” Moore told San José Spotlight.
The proposal includes $108.8 billion in funding through Prop. 98, which determines funding per student in California. In terms of early education, $690 million is allocated to expand universal transitional kindergarten classes. An additional $165 million is allocated for staffing in transitional kindergarten classrooms. The movement for universal transitional kindergarten aims to have all four-year-olds in school by 2025-26.
Heidi Emberling, community impact executive at early education group FIRST 5, said low pay, especially for early education workers, is a factor in staffing shortages. Preschool and transitional kindergarten teachers make less compared to their K-12 counterparts, and that disparity is amplified as teachers face high living costs in Silicon Valley, she added.
“The issue that we’re finding is that you can increase spaces, but if you don’t have qualified teachers, then they’re empty spaces,” Emberling told San José Spotlight. “The cost of living is high in our county, and that is a barrier for early educators who are not receiving a living wage.”
Streamlining the credentialing processes for early education teachers can address shortages, Emberling said. For example, transitional kindergarten teachers need two types of credentials—one that is early education-specific and a regular teaching credential. Approximately $3 billion in one-time funds were allocated over the last two budget cycles from 2020 through 2022 to support staffing through training, resources and grants. Organizations like FIRST 5 are also creating apprenticeship programs for potential teachers to get their permits, Emberling added.
“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Emberling said. “We’re focused on early learning workforce development so that we can make sure that we have sustainable pathways into this field (to) address the teacher shortage from the very beginning.”
Moore said strides are being made. Through state funding from 2021, Kidango was able to implement a living wage of $26.92 per hour for its staff last September. But potential educators need more options, such as online credentialing programs, he added.
“We need to have systems, in particular higher education systems, that support teachers who are working full time to be able to gain the credentials they need,” Moore told San José Spotlight.
Moore said increasing the early education workforce also involves a hard look at expanding child care and preschool access for low-income families. A 2022 Joint Venture Silicon Valley report revealed that free, public child care would allow more than 7,000 Santa Clara County households to afford basic needs without aid. The proposal includes continued support for the California State Preschool program, which grants subsidies to low-income families with preschool-aged children.
Emberling said the proposed budget is a good sign, despite the work that still needs to be done.
“The budgetary landscape can always change and can change dramatically,” Emberling told San José Spotlight. “We feel grateful for Gov. Newsom for keeping his promise to young children and families, and we’ll keep advocating.”
Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.
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