My two daughters currently go to preschool here in Sacramento. One is nearly 5 and will be starting Kindergarten in September, and the other is 3 and should be enjoying another year of preschool before she goes to elementary school. I also have a 20 month old who would have gone to the same preschool when he turns 3, which would have been a smooth transition seeing as he already knows everyone who works there.
But a few weeks ago the Sacramento City Unified School District board decided to cut the preschool program in half by the end of June. Our school got the axe, as well as half of the programs currently in place. The school board claims that it is the only way to cut the current budget in order to avoid a state takeover, but it appears that this is really just a cover up. The fact that we are losing our preschools, and so many teachers and other staff are losing their jobs, came as a massive surprise to all of us, parents and teachers alike.
We live in downtown Sacramento and don’t own a car. We walk and bike to most places, take public transport, and the occasional Uber when absolutely necessary. We can’t afford to run a car right now, and we actually like living within walking distance from most places that we frequent. Downtown and midtown Sacramento are very walkable areas, and there are grocery stores, parks, libraries, and many other places to go to.
There is however only one full day state preschool within walking distance from our house. When I say walking distance I mean within a 3-4 mile walkable radius. The preschool my children go to is actually a 2 mile walk from our house, and there is no other affordable full day preschool accessible on foot or even via public transport from where we live. I walk 8 miles a day to ensure that my kids are able to go to school, and that’s fine. I’m lucky that I work from home.
At Washington, our preschool, the program is quite specific as it is a full day program, allowing parents to place their kids in a school environment while they work and/or go to school. It’s a brilliant set up for families who cannot afford the exorbitant costs of daycare and/or private preschool to send their kids to preschool while they work.
We don’t have any family around to help out if needed, and the few friends we have here are busy with their own kids. My job allows me to work from home, which is an option that many parents don’t have. But even with me working part time and my other half working two full time jobs we could never afford to pay for private preschool or childcare fees. And without family anywhere within a 1,000 mile radius, we count on ourselves and preschool to ensure that our kids are well-cared for, learn to socialize with others, and also get used to being in a school setting. One of my children was treated for severe anxiety all through last year, and without this full year at preschool she would have had a very, very hard time entering Kindergarten in September.
We love our children’s teachers and caregivers, and it breaks my heart that they will be losing their jobs because SCUSD can’t handle their budget correctly. Last year the board made a promise to teachers and parents that they would NOT lay-off staff or cut programs, and they are doing exactly what they promised they wouldn’t do. In the meantime the board is hiring more administrators, paying themselves nice hefty salaries, see the SCTA website for more information, and basically cutting costs where it hurts those who need the funding the most.
I have written letters to the governor, the mayor, the superintendent, and to board members. The mayor’s office sent back a polite brush off letter telling me that they understood that this is “frustrating” for me (thanks for the condescending attitude), and one of the school board members wrote a kind email back looping in someone who should have had more information (and who never responded). No one else even bothered to say they were looking into it, apologize, or make it right.
So basically it boils down to this:
1). SCUSD have burnt the budget into the ground and continue to refuse to listen to teachers and parents.
2). Instead of actually looking for real solutions the board decided to close half of the preschools and lay-off 350 members of staff (deeming us “unnecessary fat” I assume).
3). All of the “we are doing what is right for our student body” is fake concern as the benefits of preschool in terms of early intervention and providing kids with an advantage are well-documented. Eliminating preschool options is directly hurting our kids.
4). Removing the child development/preschool program hits low income families the hardest as we literally have nowhere else to turn. (Especially when you look at which schools are being slashed and their general location). As my middle child will now not be able to go back to preschool next year I will either have to quit my job or at least reduce my hours, which in turn will put us back on the brink of constantly worrying about how to pay rent again. Moving is not an option, as anyone who has tried to rent in Sacramento with limited funds would know.
5). Every single parent, teacher, and caregiver is affected by this. People are losing their jobs without the likelihood of finding a new one, parents will have to quit their jobs and/or school programs because I can promise you that none of us can afford the $1,000 plus it costs to put a child in private preschool per month. If the state is so focused on making sure that ALL children are given the best start in life then why are the important parts of that being pulled from under our feet?
6). We continue to be ignored. Board President Jessie Ryan refuses to answer her phone or provide parents with a real explanation on why we are losing our preschools, and the rest of the board continue to mislead parents and teachers alike with stories of “putting the students first”.
In NYC preschool is free for all children from 4 years old (and also for 3 year olds depending on family income). If NYC can provide high quality full-day child development for preschoolers, then why can’t Sacramento make it work too? I’m more than happy to be taxed a bit more just so that all families have access to nearby affordable preschool. I would even be fine paying $100 more on top of our regular monthly preschool fee to keep the schools open.
My children have been thriving at school, in terms of learning, making friends, being exposed to the structure of an educational setting. I wonder how I will explain to my three year old in June that I’m sorry but she won’t be going back to the preschool she loves next year because the school district decided that she and her friends weren’t important enough for them.
We still have not even received a courtesy call from SCUSD staff to explain what is happening and how they will help navigate this. They have left that up to the teachers who barely have any idea themselves as they have also been left in the dark.