This article is sponsored by Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP), a nonprofit network of more than 300 preschool sites that is working to boost education for four-year-olds in and around LA. County. Click here to learn more about LAUP.
Access to a decent education is a fundamental right that is guaranteed to all American children; however preschool-aged children in California may be falling through the cracks. Budget cuts have slashed early childhood education funding across the state, sending California's total spending on pre-kindergarten students plummeting from 13th in the nation in 2011 to 16th in 2012. According to a recent study, approximately 30,000 preschool-aged children in Los Angeles County alone did not attend preschool last year. And perhaps unsurprisingly, low-income families have been hardest hit.
Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP) is working to curb the problem. Founded in 2005, the LAUP provides funding and professional development training to preschool programs across Los Angeles County, enabling hundreds of thousands of four-year-old children to obtain a preschool education at little or no cost to their families.
"All four-year-olds deserve the chance to thrive and live up to their full potential," said Celia C. Ayala, chief executive officer of LAUP. We need children to participate in a positive learning environment while getting ready for kindergarten, regardless of their parents' financial situation, because their future success in life depends on it."
Education experts like Ayala and others with LAUP believe that young children who receive educational stimulation will inevitably perform better in elementary school and beyond. Building a foundation of learning at a young age, she said, helps students learn the skills and focus to achieve in school and later life. According to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), mathematics education for three- to six-year old children benefits their math scores later in life.
Parents of students involved in LAUP programs say the benefits are both social and financial. Tene Medford, who lives in Inglewood, said she didn't qualify for the state's Head Start funding, and she worried that her kids would wallow in the public programs.
"My husband and I wanted a better education experience for our children, and we weren't sure what we were going to do," Medford said. "My coworker was paying $1,600 a month for child care and preschool, and there was no way we could afford that. So thankfully, LAUP helped us meet our needs."
LAUP does more than simply fund preschool for children — the nonprofit group also advances teacher training and enriches school curriculums across the county. Approximately 70,000 preschoolers have benefitted from LAUP programs since 2005, and the program is turning out impressive results. In the 2011-12 Universal Preschool Child Outcomes Study (UPCOS), which is conducted by Mathematica Policy Research.
Studies show that students who participated in LAUP programs surpassed the national average in math skills by two points, and English language learning students enrolled in LAUP programs regularly outperformed their English-speaking peers nationally. While 85% of American preschoolers exhibited an attention level required for kindergarten, 99% of LAUP students reached that level of attention. In a recognition test for letters in the alphabet, LAUP students improved from 12 letters to 18 letters in just one year, compared to the national average of 10 letters.
"My son was always happy and excited to come to school," said Arguro Navar of Montebello. "He has become everything that was expected of him and is very prepared for kindergarten."