Analysis of Options for Funding Universal Preschool in Sonoma County - Updated Report

Critical gaps currently exist in the availability of high-quality preschool, particularly in low-income areas of Sonoma County, California. Building on the county's interest in universal preschool, and the body of work already conducted in the county supporting it, this report provides a plan to expand access to preschool and to raise the quality of service.

Research findings highlight the benefits of expanding access to high-quality preschool, especially for children who are disadvantaged, to improve the long-term outcomes for children and their families. For children at risk of falling behind in school, quality early learning and care programs can help improve their readiness for school and school success, with better attendance, higher test scores, and reduced grade-level retention.

The authors examined 12 city and other regional preschool initiatives being implemented across the United States, and summarize the key features across the preschool initiatives that were examined: primary funding mechanisms, other sources of funding for enrolled children, funding levels, expenditure per child, implementation status, the number of children served, target population, hours and days of operation, teacher qualifications, other quality measures, provision for professional development, family fees, types of providers and provisions for facilities, administering entity, phase-in plan, and political leadership.

Based on this research, a cost analysis, and interviews with area stakeholders, the authors conclude that making universal preschool a reality is feasible in Sonoma County, and suggest the following steps:

  • Define the goal clearly as “access to quality preschool for all three- and four-year-olds.”
  • Offer free preschool up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level and on a sliding scale to families above that level.
  • Establish a framework for quality.
  • Plan for at least a school-day, school-year calendar, with provisions for extended day and year.
  • Make the most of existing state and federal funding.
  • Obtain a dedicated new funding source for preschool.
  • Adopt a separate funding source or reserve a specific percentage of any new revenue source for facilities.
  • Attach preschool programs to elementary schools where possible but offer a mixed-delivery system including community-based providers.
  • Conduct a public education campaign on the benefits of investing in quality preschool.
  • Phase in the preschool initiative across a period of up to 10 years, beginning in the neighborhoods of greatest unmet need.