LORETTA KALB / lkalb@sacbee.com

Jordan Phouangphet, 5, a pre-kindergarten student at H.W. Harkness Elementary, pastes a handprint on a letter to President Barack Obama. Watching is Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord.

Sacramento schools chief backs Obama preschool plan

Published: Wednesday, Apr. 3, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3B
Last Modified: Wednesday, Apr. 3, 2013 - 9:56 am

The letters are written. The campaign is launched. Now the question remains:

Will Congress heed President Barack Obama's call for more preschool funds to give the youngest learners an edge in schooling?

And, will that funding lead to an increase in money for transitional kindergarten, the program California set up to ease the progression of children into kindergarten?

At H.W. Harkness Elementary in Sacramento on Tuesday, education advocates bet on a positive outcome to those questions as they launched the Californians for President Obama's Early Learning Plan, which calls for expanding access to preschool across the nation.

Obama visits the Bay Area today and Thursday; and early learning supporters plan to give him an open letter from 38 California superintendents urging "robust" funding of his plan.

Among those assembled Tuesday were Sacramento City Unified School District Superintendent Jonathan Raymond and Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, chairwoman of the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance.

Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna, chairman of First 5 Sacramento, also attended along with Harkness Principal Eric Chapman.

Chapman said the transitional kindergarten class at Harkness was among the first in the Sacramento area under a state program authorized in 2010.

"Last year we had 15 to 18 kids," Chapman said. "Now there is a waiting list."

Those who have advanced to kindergarten from transitional kindergarten already show confidence and are performing well, he said. "I am hoping we can get this to expand to other classrooms and other schools," Chapman said.

Moments before he spoke, a small group of Harkness transitional kindergarten students pasted their handprints onto the oversized letter to Obama.

Bonilla helped them place their prints on the letter.

"These early years from birth to age 5 are so critical to helping them succeed," Bonilla said later.

This week, she introduced an Assembly resolution to urge Congress to provide the federal funds for preschool.

In his State of the Union address, Obama called for educating the nation's youngest children to "make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind."

Call The Bee's Loretta Kalb, (916) 321-1073. Follow her on Twitter @LorettaSacBee. Read her Report Card blog at http://blogs.sacbee.com/report-card/.

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