Universal Preschool: What happened and what's next

After nearly eight months of tireless advocacy, the Universal Preschool bill, SB-976, will not become law. Here’s your briefing on what happened, the key players, and why money trumps constituents' needs in California education politics.

Universal Preschool: What happened and what's next

After nearly eight months of tireless advocacy, the Universal Preschool bill, SB-976, will not become law. Here’s your briefing on what happened, the key players, and why money trumps constituents' needs in California education politics.

What is Universal Preschool, and why now?

It has long been CQEL’s dream to build a stronger California childcare system. We believe that as a whole it can be greater than the sum of its parts. For years CQEL has championed the idea of mixed delivery, where all types of providers work together to educate and care for young children.

California’s growing wealth gap is causing deeper disparities and access issues across races and ethnicities. The demand for high-quality, affordable childcare is broadly unmet today. The need for these services will only continue to grow.

The only way to solve the issue is to make a system where private and public programs work together to build a mixed delivery system that can meet the needs of many more families. Doing this will build a diverse system of programs that provide families with what they want: programs with accessible locations, hours that work with a variety of work schedules, culturally-appropriate curriculums, low teacher: student ratios, and staff that are relatable to children and families. The Universal Preschool bill was built to deliver on this promising idea.

What happened to the bill?

Senator Connie Levya, a longtime champion of young children, families, and providers, introduced the bill on February 10, 2022. Co-authors and sponsors quickly signed on, building enormous support for the bill.

Behind the scenes, CQEL worked with partners to build the Universal Preschool Now Coalition, leading advocacy efforts and moving the bill forward. The coalition includes childcare programs, alternative payment programs, provider support organizations, and labor groups.

From the beginning, the bill was very popular. And it’s no surprise why. It’s a win for communities, children, providers, and public schools. Committee by committee, the bill moved seamlessly through the California Senate. The bill had zero opposition in all the Senate committee hearings and only picked up one opposition vote when it reached the Senate floor.

The bill moved from the California Senate to the California Assembly in late May.  With minimal revisions, the bill passed from the Assembly Human Services Committee to the Assembly Education Committee. This is where our legislative leaders failed young children.

The roadblock.
When he received the bill, Assembly Education Committee Chairperson Patrick O’Donnell told bill authors and sponsors that he would not allow the bill to be heard in his committee. This is important because bills must pass through assigned committees to become law. When pressed, Assm. O’Donnell requested significant revisions and refused to negotiate. His revisions would have gutted the bill and made it meaningless. We chose to keep the bill intact, and this is where it stopped.

We are eternally grateful to the following co-authors, Universal Preschool Now Coalition members, and SB-976 bill supporters for relentless campaigning and support.


Introduced by Senator Leyva

(Principal coauthor: Senator Newman)

(Principal coauthor: Assembly Member Mia Bonta)

(Coauthors: Senators Caballero, Hurtado, and Ochoa Bogh)

(Coauthors: Assembly Members Aguiar-Curry, Cervantes, Cristina Garcia, Luz Rivas, Valladares, and Calderon)

When money trumps constituent needs

It’s clear that some Assemblymembers still hold traditional ideas of education: public schools should remain public, private should remain private, even if this means fewer and inferior early education options for children.

It’s baffling that with evidence of the deep disparities caused by this thinking, and dozens of examples of the benefits of mixed delivery, including in California, these legislators stick to this ideology.

But this is not entirely surprising when you look at how the funding works. Education funding makes up more than 40% of California’s total budget, and the total overall funding (federal, state, and local) for all K–12 education programs is $124.3 billion, with per-pupil spending of $21,596 in 2021–22.  These monies benefit legislators by funding their school districts and flowing indirectly into their campaign coffers.

As the bill passed to Assm. O'Donnell's committee, it was clear that legislators, on behalf of public school-only advocates, were pulling strings to ensure they stopped the bill.

What’s next

While we did not get the outcome we hoped for, we’re just getting started. In 2022 we massively increased the visibility of mixed delivery as the permanent fix for our fractured early education system.
The Transitional Kindergarten expansion is failing to meet the needs of parents and children and is failing underserved populations, as we have warned for the last four years. And it will continue to fail our communities until it addresses the diverse needs of families. Mixed delivery is the way to do that.

For the remainder of this year, we'll be working with incumbent and new legislators through the 2022 Election to help them understand the importance of mixed delivery for California children, families, and providers.

We’ll change the landscape of early education politics and legislation, even if it takes us years. We’re here for the long haul.

How you can help

Becoming a member is the best way to support our efforts and your childcare program. Membership is full of product and service discounts, free legal and HR support, and an incredibly helpful community of childcare leaders here to answer your questions.

Save $60 off your first year of membership by using code September60 through September 30th, 2022. Sign up here: https://www.caqualityearlylearning.org/join

Donations are the fuel for our work. Your donations fund our grassroots advocacy work, organizing and speaking for you, your families, and your children. If you can, please donate today:

A special thank you to SB-976 bill supporters.

First 5 California (Co-Sponsor) 4Cs Sonoma County AFSCME Bay Area Hispano Institute for Advancement, INC. (BAHIA) California Alternative Payment Program Association California Association for The Education of Young Children (CAAEYC) California Catholic Conference California Child Care Resource and Referral Network California Federation of Teachers AFL-CIO California Forward Action Fund California Hawaii State Conference of The NAACP Californians for Quality Early Learning Child Action, INC. Child Care Alliance of Los Angeles Child Care Law Center Child Care Resource Center Children Now Crystal Stairs, INC. Early Care & Education Pathways to Success (ECEPTS) Early Care and Education Consortium Early Care Educators of San Francisco Early Edge California EveryChild California Junior League of San Diego Junior Leagues of California State Public Affairs Committee (CALSPAC) Kindercare Education Learning Care Group, INC. Learning Experience Corp; the Los Angeles County Office of Education Northern Directors Group Parent Voices Regional Economic Association Leaders (R.E.A.L.) Coalition Step One School, INC. The Education Trust - West Tribal Child Care Association of California UDW/AFSCME Local 3930 YMCA of San Diego County YMCA of San Diego County, Childcare Resource Service

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