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Preschool Tax Measure OKd for June Ballot

Times Staff Writer

A proposition backed by actor and director Rob Reiner that would raise taxes on the wealthiest Californians to pay for universal preschool has acquired more than enough valid signatures to qualify for the June primary ballot, officials said Friday.

The Preschool for All Act campaign submitted more than 1 million signatures to election officials and 716,000 were certified as valid, according to the California secretary of state. The measure needed 598,000 valid signatures to qualify.

“This is a great day for California’s children,” Reiner said. “We’ll finally get a chance to pass some legislation to make sure that every 4-year-old gets the high-quality preschool they deserve. This is the first big step to improving California’s education system.”

Reiner said the campaign has raised about $3 million so far and hopes to raise $15 million to $20 million to ensure passage.

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The measure would generate $2.3 billion for preschools by imposing a 1.7% tax on the annual incomes of married couples earning more than $800,000 and individuals earning more than $400,000.

The program would guarantee all California 4-year-olds access to a free, voluntary half-day of preschool. Funds would be administered by county education offices with the state superintendent of public instruction having ultimate oversight. Reiner said that parents would be given a choice of preschool programs, and that private, nonprofit, at- home and faith-based providers could compete for funds with public schools.

Proponents tout studies such as a recent Rand Corp. report, which found that every dollar California invests in high-quality preschool would return $2.62 in savings through lower dropout rates, reduced juvenile crime and other social benefits.

The measure has won broad backing from educators, law enforcement, many elected officials and some unlikely bedfellows such as the Los Angeles and San Francisco chambers of commerce and Los Angeles businessman Eli Broad.

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However, taxpayer groups have questioned the fairness of a new tax targeting the wealthy and say that they will mount a campaign to oppose the measure.

A growing number of independent researchers contend that the universal preschool program would set up an ill-equipped bureaucracy.

Some researchers also cite studies that show it is primarily low-income children who gain the most from preschool, and they argue that resources should be devoted to those most in need.

“The key thing about universal preschool ... is it’s such a broad-scale program that it will really dilute resources that could be used to target the most disadvantaged kids,” said Lisa Snell, director of education for the Reason Foundation, a Los Angeles-based think tank.

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