SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled another piece of his pandemic recovery plan on Wednesday, one that will include more than $14.5 billion funding for public schools.
The plan includes a proposed universal pre-K program by 2024, savings accounts for 3.7 million children, and the reduction of class sizes. This comes just two days after it was revealed that California has an astonishing budget surplus of nearly $76 billion.
"We talk about an 'achievement gap' -- it's a readiness gap, as much or more than it is an achievement gap," Newsom said at a news conference held at Elkhorn Elementary School in Monterey County. "People aren't left behind as often as they start behind, and that's why that investment is so foundational and so important."
The surplus means California will have $93.7 billion to spend on public education this year, money calculated by a voter-approved formula. That's $36 billion more than the state had to spend last year, and it is $17.7 billion more than the governor's initial estimate in January.
Newsom said he wants to spend part of that money to expand the state's transitional kindergarten program to all 4-year-olds by the 2024-25 school year.
The plan would eventually open California's two-year transitional kindergarten program to students starting at age 4. The proposal fulfills a promise by Newsom and legislative leaders to pay for universal pre-K statewide.
Previous proposals have concerned some local school officials, who have expressed concerns that they would run out of teachers. Teacher retirements increased 26% during the second half of 2020, according to the California State Teachers' Retirement System. A state survey found that 56% of those who retired cited the difficulty of teaching during the coronavirus pandemic.
Newsom's plan would address that problem by giving $1.1 billion to some school districts to hire more staff, the administration official said. To be eligible for the money, at least 55% of a district's enrollment would have to be made up of either low-income students, children learning English as a second language or kids in foster care, the official said.
California does not require anyone to go to school until age 6. But school districts are required to offer kindergarten program for students who turn 5 by Sept. 2 of each year and a two-year transitional kindergarten program for students who turn 5 by Dec. 2. Newsom's plan would eventually make all children who turn 4 by Sept. 1 eligible for the transitional kindergarten program, the official said.
Parents won't have to send their 4-year-olds to kindergarten. But school districts will have to offer it.
The plan would be rolled out in phases, making more children eligible for kindergarten each year until the plan is fully implemented in the 2024-25 school year. The Newsom administration says it will cost $2.7 billion per year by that time.
The governor's plan would also spend $3.3 billion to expand incentive programs for teachers, including a program that gives grants of up to $20,000 to teachers who work in high-need public schools, the official said.
In addition, Newsom wants to pay for an after-school program and six weeks of summer school for districts with high concentrations of low-income students, children learning to speak English and kids in foster care. The programs would be available for students up to 6th grade, the official said.
Earlier this week, Newsom announced another round of stimulus checks, as well as relief funds for utility bills and rent -- all part of a weeklong rollout of proposals.
The governor also unveiled a $12 billion plan to tackle the state's homeless crisis.
The surplus is good timing for Newsom, who will face a recall election later this year fueled by anger over his handling of the pandemic.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.