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Oakland preschool falls victim to budget cuts

July 29, 2010 10:40:45 PM PDT
10:30 p.m. update: The Oakland Unified School district late Thursday night found the funding to keep seven of the early childhood development centers open and 700 kindergarten through third grade kids in the centers until the new school year begins. The school district managed to reprioritize $400,000 in one time federal stimulus funds, set aside for professional development, to keep the centers open. The children will be placed in normal district afterschool programs once the school year starts.

California voters made a commitment to invest in early childhood education with the "Preschool For All" initiative. But now some of those schools are falling victim to state budget cuts.

Hintil Kuu Ca has been a childhood development center since the early 1970s founded by American Indians. The name means 'the Indian children's place' and on Thursday, the staff was packing some of the cultural items that have made this school unique.

Traci Van Winkle was 3 years old when she started.

"When I was here, I got to learn more that I wouldn't have if I had gone to a normal school that didn't focus on Native American culture," she said.

On Thursday, her mother was helping pack old photos of the school, including one of the first group to graduate.

Agnes Tso has worked as a teacher for nearly 30 years.

"The kids are such a joy, you know, they are so positive even if they are sad, they are up again the next minute," she said.

Most of the kids they serve are non-American Indians.

"The kids learn the social skills, academic and they will be ready for kindergarten," teacher Sandra Ball said.

Seven of the 31 preschools and childhood development centers in Oakland were set to close on Friday after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made more cuts in his May revision of the budget.

The school district runs the centers.

"You are going to have millions of more children statewide who are unprepared when they reach the kindergarten level," Troy Flint from the Oakland School District said. "And it also hurts working class families throughout the state because if they don't have the money to afford private childcare and they don't have the means, can't stay at home, there is really no place for these kids to go."

Terry Littlejohn is a grandmother and along with others, she was reaching out to the community to help keep the center open at least through the summer.

"Just because you have a casino doesn't necessarily mean you have money to give and because they have programs set up for their tribes. But we are going to ask for those who can, help us out," she said.


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