In March 2004, San Francisco voters ushered in a bright, new era for the City’s children and families, creating one of the nation’s first city-funded universal preschool programs, Preschool for All (PFA). With the passage of Proposition H, the City and County of San Francisco formed a new Public Education Enrichment Fund with dedicated resources for expanding high-quality preschool education to all four-year-olds in the City.
It was a bold move to fundamentally transform public education in the City, and ten years later, the evidence is clear: Preschool for All in San Francisco has been a resounding success. Children’s preschool participation is at an all-time high, preschool programs have stepped up the quality of their curricula and teaching, and children are starting kindergarten with better academic and social skills. Moreover, PFA’s universal approach has brought opportunity to neighborhoods and populations in which children previously had the least access to high-quality early education. Among these children, the City has made its greatest gains in preschool participation and seen some of the largest increases in children’s skill development.
The significant responsibility of planning and administering Preschool for All rested on a startup City department, First 5 San Francisco. First 5’s mission, values, and positioning within the City were a perfect match with the new initiative. With a comprehensive focus on supporting all children ages 0-5 to be healthy and ready for school, an appetite for innovation and collaboration, distaste for bureaucracy, and a steadfast commitment to results for children, First 5 set out to build a Preschool for All system the City could be proud of. Under First 5’s stewardship, PFA created new infrastructure and systems to increase its effectiveness in meeting the needs of children and families, partnered with numerous people and organizations to sharpen the education and skills of teachers, and bridged gaps between young children, community-based centers, family child care homes, and the K-12 education system.
Over the last ten years, dedicated programs and their staff, families, agencies both public and private, and friends have donated time, and knowledge and skills to the development of Preschool for All. We are grateful to work of so many who have supported and continue to support the grand vision of PFA. The forward movement of our collective work and the continued commitment to the power of the early years are building a richer, more productive, and inclusive City for all children and their families. We have made significant progress in improving educational outcomes for thousands of children in San Francisco. Yet our work is not complete.
Last week, on November 4, 2014, San Francisco voters overwhelmingly chose to renew funding for Preschool for All for another 26 years. By passing Proposition C (the “Children and Families First Initiative”) with a staggering 74 percent of the vote, San Francisco recognized the significant accomplishments of PFA over the last decade and paved the way for an even brighter future for young children in the City. With the passage of Prop C, responsibility for administering PFA passes from First 5 to the City’s newly established Office of Early Care and Education. First 5 intends to play a major role in shaping the next version of PFA, if not implementing key parts of it. Our hope is that the City can learn from the lessons of the first ten years of Preschool for All, to evolve and expand the initiative to even greater heights.