In 2021, California committed to providing universal prekindergarten (UPK) for all 4-year-olds and income-eligible 3-year-olds by 2025–26. UPK includes several early learning programs, including transitional kindergarten (TK), the California State Preschool Program (CSPP), Head Start, and expanded learning opportunities to provide full-day early learning and care. TK is the only program that is free and universally available as part of California’s public education system. Offered by local education agencies (LEAs), TK currently serves all 4-year-olds who turn 5 between September 2 and December 2 and will expand to all 4-year-olds by 2025–26. The legislature also made new investments in CSPP, a program for income-eligible 3- and 4-year-old children. Funding for CSPP is provided by the state through grants to both LEAs and community-based organizations.
This report provides a snapshot of 1,108 LEAs’ initial plans for UPK expansion through the analysis of a survey administered by the California Department of Education in August 2022. Key findings provide insights into LEA plans for service delivery models, facilities and transportation, instruction and assessment, workforce development, school leader development, and technical assistance needs.
Universal Prekindergarten Delivery Models
Over one third of LEAs plan to expand TK eligibility faster than the legislated rollout schedule. A majority of LEAs report plans to offer TK at all elementary school sites, full-day TK options, and expanded learning and care. California LEAs are planning to implement UPK through various combinations of TK, CSPP, Head Start, and expanded learning programs. There was no common model for how LEAs planned to structure TK classes—while many are planning stand-alone TK classes, many others plan to combine TK with kindergarten, CSPP, and/or locally funded preschool.
Facilities and Transportation
About two thirds of LEAs indicate having sufficient facility space to meet projected TK enrollment, though more than half of LEAs intend to update their buildings and grounds to accommodate young learners. Many LEAs also express a need for facilities funding and guidance. Although not required by law, just under half of LEAs plan to provide some form of transportation for TK students.
Instruction and Assessment
A majority of LEAs plan to offer English-only instruction with home-language support for multilingual learners and/or dual language programs; however, almost one fifth have no plans to provide language supports. Most LEAs plan to assess children’s learning using locally based assessments in TK and kindergarten, while fewer than a third plan to use established preschool assessments.
Approximately four fifths of LEAs report not having enough qualified staff to teach TK. LEAs plan to use a variety of strategies to develop their TK and CSPP workforce; common strategies include partnering with local institutions of higher education or county offices and offering advising.
Supporting School Leaders
Almost all LEAs indicate plans to provide principals and site leaders with professional development to prepare them to educate young learners. The most common topics LEAs plan to provide for school leaders include academic and social-emotional development, inclusive settings, and curriculum.
Technical Assistance Needs
LEAs express broad interest in all forms of technical assistance: program planning; partnerships; facilities; curriculum, instruction, and assessment; workforce recruitment and development; and professional development. The area of greatest interest is professional learning.
Large District Approaches to UPK
California’s four largest districts—educating over 800,000 students (14% of state enrollment)—are planning to roll out TK quickly and comprehensively. All plan to offer early admittance TK, full-day TK, and dual language programs, and they all plan to use established early childhood assessments. However, all indicate a need for more qualified TK teachers and plan to partner with local institutions of higher education. Additionally, the four large districts plan to maintain or expand other UPK options such as CSPP.
These findings may help policymakers and practitioners identify areas for additional investments and supports during UPK implementation, although we note several data limitations and caution that initial UPK plans may have shifted over the course of the 2022–23 school year. As California moves forward with the expansion of universal prekindergarten, more research and data collection will be needed.
How Are California School Districts Planning for Universal Prekindergarten? Results From a 2022 Survey by Melanie Leung-Gagné, Victoria Wang, Hanna Melnick, and Chris Mauerman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
This research was supported by the Ballmer Group, Heising-Simons Foundation, and David and Lucile Packard Foundation. Additional core operating support for LPI is provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Raikes Foundation, Sandler Foundation, and MacKenzie Scott. We are grateful to them for their generous support. The ideas voiced here are those of the authors and not those of our funders.