Summer 2006 Newsletter

LAUP Seeks to Bring Preschool to High-Need Areas as Soon as Possible

Graciela Italiano-ThomasDedicated to making preschool available to all of L.A. County's 4-year-olds, LA Universal Preschool distributes funds for siting and building-out new pre-K seats in the county's most under-served communities. Despite the defeat of Prop 82, LAUP continues to pursue this mission by leveraging scarce resources and collaborating with model partners such as NSBN. Under the direction of CEO Graciela Italiano-Thomas, LAUP is collaborating with NSBN on projects described on page 21.

Los Angeles Universal Preschool's goal is to make high-quality voluntary preschool accessible to all 4-year-olds in L.A. County by the end of the decade, and that requires providing facilities and more seats to meet demand. With the failure of State Prop 82 this June, what is LAUP's plan to assist providers in adding new facilities and seats?

At the moment we have an approved budget and plan for 2006-07, which starts July 1, to continue building infrastructure in the areas of greatest need in the county. We will proceed with the approved plan. What has changed for us is our strategic thinking about what will happen in the years to follow. At the moment we have approximately four more years of funding from First 5 LA, including this coming year. We have to engage our board and our key partners in the community to make sure that we use these seed funds in the most judicious manner. We must regroup, therefore, and figure out a strategy to bring sustainable funding to this great effort ‹to both facilities infrastructure and programmatic sustainability. Our goal remains to bring high-quality preschool to all 4-year-olds. For us, the defeat of Prop 82 is only one more new challenge for us to meet.

What's the preschool demand in Los Angeles County? How many seats are needed if LAUP's goal is to be by the decade's end?

We know there are approximately 155,000 4-year-olds in the county. We estimate that about 70 percent would participate if it were offered to them.

So with the system fully functioning, we would probably be reaching 115,000. To calculate the supply side is more challenging which points to the complexity of accomplishing our mission.

Can we not assume if universality is the goal, that tens of thousands of new pre-K seats will be still needed, even after building on existing infrastructure of licensed care facilities? LAUP, and you specifically, have been quite articulate about LAUP's need to partner with all kinds of resources in the county to meet demand. Elaborate on some of the partnerships that you've been developing and the promise of those partnerships to close the pre-K seat gap.

How we've been approaching our build-out of new facilities is to first see what resources are available. We have great partnerships with the school districts. We've also partnered with nonprofit organizations that are either expanding their facilities or in some cases building new facilities, and our funding will be just a portion of the new facility. And we've been creating spaces by funding empty classrooms that were physically there before but didn't have operational funding.

Partnerships span the continuum from just providing operational funding and remodeling, and in many cases we are funding modular units that can be placed in close proximity to a community-based organization or a school.

Our key partners are some of the nonprofits, some are school districts, but we also have partnerships with cities and elected officials that have access to knowledge or resources that can tell us where there are usable empty facilities in the community, and then we have to go through the process of urban planning and geomapping to place them where they are most needed.

Regarding partnership, LAUP has been working with NSBN, with common funding from First 5/LA, on a portfolio of preschool facility projects in neighborhoods in Lennox, Paramount, North County, South L.A. and East Hollywood. NSBN's model focuses on finding available land and then partnering with a provider to build new seats, rather than depending on a provider to find and develop new pre-K facilities. Is the NSBN model proving valuable for LAUP?

Potentially, yes. We hope to continue our partnership with NSBN as we need to be much more careful about leveraging our own resources. NSBN is definitely one of the models that could provide a more interesting use of resources in the years to come. Not only is it a different kind of funding structure, but it also presents the opportunity to erect a structure that may have multiple uses for the community.

What funding for new spaces does LAUP offer your partners‹existing preschool providers, cities, school districts, other nonprofits, etc.‹for expanding spaces for 4-year-olds?

We are offering facilities funding. We got 377 applications recently, more than 200 of them are facilities projects of some sort. In all cases we are offering funding to remodel, bring a modular on site, as well as funding for a provisional contract to prepare for moving into operational funding.

So applicants who are thinking about partnering with LAUP can have a sense of your facility priorities, what are the areas/neighborhoods of greatest need?

From the policy direction we got from our board last year, we looked at the data across the county by zip codes and we looked across the county for zip codes where the service rates were below the county average, which is 48 percent. Then we added to that the raw need; that is, how many children needed spaces that were not available. And if the zip code needed more than 1,000 spaces, then that became the first priority ­ Tier I. I think that includes 14 or 15 zip codes. Then immediately after we created a Tier II with a raw need of 500 or more, and that includes 20 zip codes on which we are now concentrating. It so happens that when you correlate this data of service rate with API scores, the correlation is very high, which tells us that our criteria work.

How long does the LAUP approval/ funding process take regarding these facility applications? What might applicants expect when they apply for funding for new preschool seats?

I wish I had an average to give you. We just haven't done enough to have a valid number. But I can tell you that we are prioritizing according to projects that are less time-consuming. Some of the projects will take just a few months, so we expect to have operational spaces as early as four or five months from now. Some of the projects are quite involved, and they will require more time to make sure that all the specifications are in place, so it could be a year or more.

While LAUP is focused on universal preschool for 4-year-olds, First 5/LA has becoming increasingly interested in 0 to 3 services for children and families. What then is the value of siting new preschool facilities in neighborhood centers that provide multiple services, such as preschools, primary centers, health clinics, parks, and libraries?

The value is mostly for the families and the children. If the families have children of different ages, then they have one place where the services are centered, and the sooner we can impact these families in areas of health and a variety of other ways, the sooner we start making progress towards helping that child succeed academically and in life. The most important element is the continuity of services that can happen for a family. If they get used to going to one place when the child is a baby and then the services are there when the child reaches preschool age, the familiarity for the family and the ability to navigate all of the services has an impact on whether the family will really be able to gain access to those services or not.

The proposed state budget for next year contains increased funding for pre-K and there also is an ongoing conversation about going back to the voters with a modified version of Prop 82. Does LAUP expect sufficient funding to become available in coming years?

I think the governor's $100 million proposal is a very good first step, but we know that it's going to cost many more hundreds of millions to really provide quality preschool for children across the state. As far as alternative public funding to create sustainability in L.A. County, we are looking at partnerships to begin developing a plan. I think it's a little premature to talk about the specifics of such a plan, but the feeling among LAUP's board and staff is that Prop 82 is a temporary loss, not a defeat.

Society has recognized that quality preschool for 4-year-olds is good for the future. Social movements happen in progressive stages. All of us have learned from this initiative process, and it's now time to gather those lessons and find alternative ways to bring this forward. Our community has shown that it has the will, and now we have to find the way.