Go after preschool Race to the Top, but not with one hand tied behind our back
Here are 500 million reasons why business supports early education in California.
Late last month, the federal government announced that it will be making $500 million available to the states for spending on early education programs.
Perhaps it would be better to say that the federal government is putting $500 million up for grabs. It’s an important difference that gives California an opportunity to access critical new funds, but unfortunately, the Governor’s recent budget proposal puts us at a disadvantage.
Although exact details won’t be released until the summer, we do know this: these dollars are coming via a competitive grant, the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge. California won’t simply get its due share via a formula pegged to the number of young learners in our state. We are going to have to compete for this money, which would help support some of our state’s most important educational investments – the ones that reach our students early, when 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds are able to learn so much and caring, high-quality teachers can have such life-changing effects.
From my perspective as president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, I see this challenge grant, and other Race to the Top programs, as a version of venture capitalism. When competing for seed money, the objective of the hungry entrepreneur is not only to stand out from the crowd, but above the crowd. The idea that one is pitching has to be more innovative, more marketable, and more thoroughly researched than one’s competition.
For this federal venture capital competition we do know that one key requirement will be that states have established and effective early learning advisory groups. Fortunately, California has one.
The Early Learning Advisory Council (ELAC) first convened in the summer of 2010 to begin its work to find efficiencies within the early education system and establish quality standards that can be used to improve early learning program design and increase the effectiveness of our early care and education system. It exists to optimize the substantial investments we have made and, importantly, is playing a central role in implementing Transition Kindergarten, a program that the business community supports strongly.
Unfortunately, as part of his May revise budget, Gov. Brown included the Early Learning Advisory Council among the dozens of boards and commissions he wants to eliminate. I understand why he did so. His goals of streamlining government, reducing redundancies, and saving taxpayer money are important ones that I and other business leaders support. Certainly there are boards that would not be missed and others with functions that easily could be picked up elsewhere. That is not true of ELAC, however.
ELAC is staffed and run using no General Fund dollars; its $2 million budget over three years comes from First 5. And what we get for those First 5 dollars is irreplaceable. ELAC’s volunteer members provide an unparalleled level of knowledge about the complex world of early education, which involves economic research, the latest brain studies, education policy, and organizational management, among other issues. I do not think there is a group of concerned citizens anywhere in the country who are doing better, more important work on behalf of young learners.
Preschool critical to state’s future
High-quality early education, as part of a world-class preK-12 education system, is paramount for our state to remain strong and competitive in the decades to come. We need ELAC to be at work now, establishing high quality standards, determining the best and most efficient use of existing resources, and aligning early education programs with the K-12 system to serve our students best.
But those are long-term objectives and ambitions. In the short term, our state has the chance to win tens of millions of dollars – and hopefully more – in federal money that will help move California toward those longer-term goals. But to do so, we have to maintain ELAC.
Fortunately, there are efforts in Sacramento right now to find the best possible home for ELAC and figure out where within our state’s government it might operate most effectively. The Silicon Valley Leadership Group and many of our partners, particularly those on the California Preschool Business Advisory Council, have offered our thoughts and ideas on what the best proposal might be.
Given the important work ELAC is doing, I’m confident our state leaders will figure out that best plan and implement it. And I’m confident they will do so in time for California not to miss the opportunity to optimize and rationalize the use of our scarce resources by preparing, as it should, to go after our state’s share of that $500 million. It simply doesn’t make sense for California, the home of venture capitalism, not to do so.
It certainly doesn’t make sense for California’s children.
Carl Guardino is the president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a public policy trade association that represents more than 345 of Silicon Valley’s most respected companies. Guardino also serves as the Chairman of the California Preschool Business Advisory Council. For more information about the Leadership Group, go to www.SVLG.org.