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    Income Limits for Subsidized Preschool in California Are Going Up. Will It Be Enough to Help Families?

    Daisy Nguyen, KQED

    Shirley Jean is an adaptive P.E. teacher whose job requires driving from school to school in the sprawling city of San Bernardino to work with students with disabilities.

    She gets a $187 monthly mileage stipend to cover the cost of gas. It’s a drop in the bucket with skyrocketing gas prices, but the stipend became a burden when she enrolled her three-year-old twins in preschool.

    The stipend lifted her monthly paycheck $71 above the income limit to qualify for state-subsidized preschool, which kept her from enrolling both boys in the same school. Desperate for a solution, she underwent elective surgery so she could take a medical leave, and lower her monthly pay just once, which would be enough to make the cut for the preschool program.

    She thinks the low-income requirement doesn’t take into account inflation in today’s economy, and is keeping working parents from pursuing jobs with better pay.

    “How do you acquire generational wealth when you’re set to only make a certain income?” Jean said. “Why are we promoting poverty? Why are we saying like, ‘No, don’t keep going, limit yourself for your kids to go to school or limit yourself so that you can qualify for this program.’”

    Her situation underscores the kinds of barriers lower-middle-class families must overcome to get access to early education. California trails behind other states in offering subsidized preschool, serving just a fraction of the three- and four-year-olds eligible for a program meant to lift their early learning and narrow education disparities.

    Jean discovered the complexities of eligibility in the spring when one of her sons, Chase, was admitted to a state-funded preschool classroom run by the San Bernardino City Unified School District. The California State Preschool Program gives priority to disadvantaged children, including kids who are poor, homeless, in foster care or have special needs.

    Chase got in because he was diagnosed with a mild form of autism that requires special education. Meanwhile, Chase’s fraternal twin, Chandler, was disqualified because Jean’s salary didn’t meet the state’s definition of low income. Instead, he went to a private daycare.

    The 35-year-old mother thought the policy put her boys on an uneven playing field.

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