Pre-K report calls for improved family engagement

Pre-K report calls for improved family engagement

(Calif.) Improving access to high-quality preschool programs throughout California can benefit not just students, but their families’ overall economic circumstances as well, according to a new report.

A blue ribbon commission report released Monday by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon provides recommendations to help policymakers expand access to care and education programs for families in poverty, while encouraging stronger partnerships between school districts, early learning providers and families.

In California, 18 percent of families with children and 20 percent of families with children under the age of 6 have incomes below the poverty line. Commission members said having access to stable child care where children are building an educational foundation enables parents to work or obtain additional training and education needed to move into higher-wage careers.

“As a practitioner in their field for nearly two decades I saw the impact early education has on a child’s brain development, and how it sets the stage for a child’s capabilities and opportunities for the rest of their lives,” said Rendon, who also led the commission’s work. “I also saw what it meant for parents to be able to work and contribute to the economy knowing their children were in a safe, nurturing environment.”

Research has long shown that participation in high-quality childcare or pre-K programs can have a number of positive benefits for children. In some studies, children enrolled in early learning childcare have demonstrated increased levels of academic achievement, cognitive and social-emotional development, and are better able to adjust to different social environments than their peers.

Others have found that children who participate for two years in high-quality preschool programs are less likely to come into contact with the juvenile justice system, and require academic remediation or special education services.

On the other hand, participation in average or low-quality programs has been shown to have short-lived benefits or none at all.

California lawmakers in recent years have worked to improve preschool teacher training, reduce suspension rates among early learners and expand the number of low-income families with access to high-quality pre-K programs.

Earlier this year, Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed close to $125 million to open up enough slots in the state’s preschool programs so that all eligible four-year-olds could participate, as well as $750 million to help districts expand full-day kindergarten program.

At Monday’s press conference, Rendon said the commission on early childhood education was formed to create a blueprint that lawmakers could use to improve a fragmented early learning and care system that can be difficult for parents with young children to navigate.

In addition to calling for more access to pre-K for needy families, the latest report from the state Assembly’s Commission on Early Childhood Education also called for policymakers to empower parent voices.

To do so, the report found that encouraging parent involvement should be prioritized at the state, local and program level with investments and policies to ensure parent voices are heard

Indeed, researchers from the University of Minnesota reported last year that emphasizing parent involvement and services as part of early learning programs can have positive effects on low-income children up to 30 years later.

 One member of the commission, Jacquelyn McCroskey, said if policymakers don’t address both the family’s and the child’s needs at the same time, as early as possible, positive long-term outcomes will be unlikely.

“We cannot improve and support the lives of children without supporting their families,” McCroskey, a professor of child welfare at University of Southern California, School of Social Work, said Monday. “California is incredibly lucky that we have so many of the pieces in place that we need, but we have to coordinate them, align them and connect them to the voices of [parents] who rely on early childhood education to make their families work.”

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