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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

The Rise of Public TK

This conversation with Lara Magnusdottir, director of public policy at the Community Child Care Council of Sonoma County (4Cs), is part one of a two-part series about the newly implemented California public school Transitional Kindergarten (TK) program.

Family Life: What does 4Cs do?

Lara Magnusdottir: We provide subsidized preschools, but we also offer a lot of other services. One of them is that we are a childcare resource and referral agency in Sonoma County. That means that we have a contract with the Department of Social Services to provide public education, and to monitor and create awareness of the supply and demand of childcare. We have a database of all the licensed providers in our area, and we provide referrals to families.

FL: How is the new public TK program affecting the work of 4Cs?

LM: We speak from the point of view of a resource and referral agency, so we are thinking about all providers, all of childcare in the community. So thinking from that perspective, public TK is having a huge impact on the field. It is a real structural change to the system. The schools are taking on younger children [four-year-olds] who, at this point, they really don’t have the staff with the training and experience to serve. The field that has been traditionally serving these children has to be prepared to pivot and figure out how to work in this new environment. We also feel that public TK has been implemented a little too quickly, especially in the wake of COVID. To get the workforce ready, to get the facilities ready, to really do this well, has been a challenge for schools.

FL: Who is the public school system hiring to take care of this particular age group? How does public TK affect the teaching community?

LM: There is a Pre-K through third-grade teaching credential that is in the works, which is great. But private providers and preschools are very concerned that they are going to lose their best teachers. I believe that, at this point, if a teacher has a bachelor’s degree they can have a temporary credential to teach TK. There are a lot of preschool teachers with BAs. And if they have the choice to go teach TK for sometimes twice the salary and much better benefits and time off, of course a lot of them are going to choose that. It is the same with parents. Even if they think public TK is not the best environment for their child, it’s free. So, of course, they are going to choose that.

Another way this impacts preschools and childcare providers outside the public TK program is that four-year-olds subsidize providers’ care for younger kids. This is because preschools are allowed to have bigger groups of them [a larger-student-to-teacher ratio]. Preschool licensure requires a smaller student-to-teacher ratio for infants and toddlers, so this age group requires more staff. There is no way we can expect families to pay the true cost of infant and toddler care. So if you lose all of your four-year-olds and you pivot to serving infants, toddlers, and some three-year-olds, your cost is going to go up. Either way, what’s going to happen is that it’s going to be more expensive for families to send kids to preschool or the quality is going to go way down. They are not going to hire people who have the most experience and provide the best care, which hopefully is not going to happen, or they are just going to close.

FL: Can children who have state vouchers attend your programs or any preschool of their choice for free?

LM: The vouchers have a maximum, so there are times when the family has to pay the difference between the voucher and the tuition the provider charges.

FL: The California State Preschool Programs that 4Cs run otherwise cost money, correct?

LM: There are fees that families, depending on their income, have to pay for full-time programs. These fees have been waived during the pandemic. We are advocating that these family fees be permanently waived. Currently, the waiver expires June 30, 2023.

FL: Any parting thoughts?

LM: Public TK is here to stay. There are wonderful things that can be done with it. But we really believe that, when it comes to finding the best education fit for very young children, families need to be able to have access to, and choose from, different options. They need to have a true choice. 

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.