The Los Angeles Unified Board of Education passed a resolution Tuesday to increase funding by millions of dollars for the district's early education program.
The resolution, which passed in a 6-1 vote, is intended to eventually restore funding over the next few years for thousands of slots for children in early childhood education programs that have been slashed since 2007-08 as a result of the recession.
"We were hoping the state or federal government would step up, but we can't wait any longer, so we decided to invest ourselves," said Juan de la Cruz, deputy chief of staff for board member Bennett Kayser.
Los Angeles Unified's early childhood education programs will receive up to $4.9 million in 2014-15, according to De la Cruz. An additional $14 million will be added in 2015-16 and another $20 million will be added in 2016-17. Funding is expected to come from a mix of state, federal and local sources.
It's "an investment that will help ensure more children are prepared for success in the classroom and in life," said a statement from Kim Belshe, executive director of First 5 LA, which advocates for educational opportunities for children 5and under.
Much of the money will be dedicated to professional development, preschool, parent engagement and physical and mental health initiatives. It will support programs that serve low-income children, English learners and foster youth, whose reading levels and vocabulary often lag behind those of their peers.
"We want to target areas where there's a need," De la Cruz said.
California ranks 34th in per-pupil spending, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Kim Pattillo Brownson, director of educational equity for the Advancement Project, a civil rights organization, said the resolution represents one of the largest California school district investments in early childhood education in the last decade.
The amount is more than twice that of the much smaller Fresno Unified School District, which had the next-largest allocation and could restore by 2016 nearly 2,000 slots that were cut.
"Although it doesn't bring us back to 2008 levels, it certainly puts us on the path," she said.