Preschool good for California over long term

Only in Capitol politics could anti-tax groups run a campaign against one
tax increase by advocating another. But with a straight face, that’s exactly
what the California Taxpayers Association and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers
Association are doing as they gear up to oppose Proposition 82, the
preschool-for-all initiative, on the June ballot.

Proposition 82 will provide access to voluntary, quality preschool programs
for all four-year-olds while raising standards for preschool teachers and
encouraging more parental involvement. Both the Legislative Analyst’s Office
and researchers at the Stanford University School of Education have
concluded that Proposition 82 will generate sufficient revenue to expand
preschool to all children. The initiative has been endorsed by a bipartisan
coalition that reflects its widespread support, from the California Teachers
Association to the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, as well as
organizations representing California’s police chiefs, sheriffs,
firefighters and nurses.

Faced with a popular, well-written ballot initiative, Sacramento’s
professional anti-tax crusaders are running a classic bait-and-switch
campaign aimed at convincing voters to oppose preschool in favor of
increased funding for the K-12 education system. It’s a strategy that
veteran Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton called “disingenuous,”
concluding that the No on 82 campaign “wouldn’t favor raising taxes on the
rich regardless of the cause.”

Californians recognize that by investing in preschool, we can give all
children a head start on learning and can strengthen our schools. According
to the latest public-opinion poll by the Public Policy Institute of
California released last month, more than eight in ten likely voters believe
that attending preschool is important to a child’s success in school.

This widespread support for preschool reflects what every parent knows:
Children at age four are ready and eager to learn. Quality preschool takes
advantage of this critical period by laying a solid foundation for language,
literacy and social development. Four decades of research have shown that
children who go to preschool read earlier, learn faster and are less likely
to be held back in school or to be tracked into remedial-education classes.
Currently only one in five of California’s children attend quality preschool
programs with well-qualified teachers. Unequal access to early education has
serious consequences for our schools. The latest standardized test results
show that nearly twice as many white fourth-graders are proficient in
language arts as Latino students. This gap doesn’t just appear in fourth
grade. According to a 2004 study by Policy Analysis for California Education
(PACE), the difference between students in fourth grade is largely visible
when children enter kindergarten. Proposition 82 will level the playing
field and help close the achievement gap that separates low-income and
minority students from their peers.

Preschool for all is not only good policy, it is also one of the most
cost-effective investments we can make. A 2005 study by the RAND Corporation
estimated that every dollar invested in universal preschool in California
would generate between $2.62 and $4 in savings from reduced
remedial-education costs, reduced juvenile crime and increased tax revenues.

Despite the evidence showing that quality preschool helps children succeed
in and saves money in the long run, the No on 82 campaign has adopted the
slogan, “Fix K-12 First,” indicating they now support a dedicated tax
increase so long as it is targeted toward K-12 schools.

I have decided to take them at their word. As the author of legislation to
increase tax rates on upper-income Californians in 2003, 2004 and 2005
(bills that were opposed by the California Chamber and the California
Taxpayers Association), I see their endorsement of K-12 funding as an
opportunity to raise additional revenue to support our children’s education.

Last week, I sent a letter to the No on 82 campaign chairs, Small Business
Action Committee President Joel Fox and California Chamber of Commerce
President Allan Zaremberg, offering my hand in a new bipartisan partnership.

With the help of Fox and Zaremberg, I have no doubt we will be able to
secure the Republican votes necessary to pass a bill reinstating the
upper-income tax brackets, in effect since the early 1990s under Pete
Wilson, to go toward K-12 funding.

I’m still waiting for an answer. In the meantime, Californians will have a
real opportunity to invest in our children and improve our schools by voting
for Proposition 82 in June.

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