For This School Year Nearly 3 Million Young Parents in California Face Long Preschool Waiting Lists

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The month before the school year begins is crucial, but only one in two preschoolers will find a space in pre-k classrooms this year. According to a UC Berkeley study, those odds dip even lower in middle-class parts of the Bay Area and suburbs located farther out.

Early childhood education and care options for children as young as one or two are also becoming more competitive, as only one in eight parents will be able to find an opening at a center or licensed childcare home. With about 60% of these mothers working outside of the home, it becomes a tough choice between continuing to search for alternative care or leaving a job to stay home full time.

Making the same decision for preschool-aged children is not as simple. Even if a parent is able to become a full-time mom or dad, studies have shown that pre-k sets up children for a bright future. According to the HighScope Perry Preschool Study, children who attend preschool are 17% more likely to graduate from high school than those who skip the year and go straight to kindergarten.

In a 25-year-long study of about 1,400 public school students, researchers found that students who had attended preschool had higher incomes, socioeconomic status, and rates of health insurance coverage. Outside of the monetary benefits, pre-k socializes children from an early age and encourages them to be lifelong learners.

Families who are fortunate enough to find one of these intellectually-important pre-k spots, pay up to $2,000 per month on average. For many parents, this amount is out of their price range, yet they make too much to enroll their child in a public preschool or care center.

Despite these prices, early childhood education options are in high demand and so are teachers for the schools. Between 2016 and 2026, the employment of preschool teachers has been projected to grow by 10%, which is faster than the average for all occupations. While the demand grows, the average pre-K staffer in California was paid just over $12 an hour last year.

According to one statewide poll, over half of all Californians want a bold policy fix to make early childhood education more affordable and more accessible to all.

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