A charity launched on Thursday, January 5, which seeks to fulfill the city of Long Beach, California’s promise of a college education for every child, will focus its initial efforts on the city’s youngest students.
Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia joined educators and business leaders who share his belief in the importance of early childhood learning at Little Owl Preschool to announce the debut of the Mayor’s Fund for Education (MFE).
The new nonprofit will operate independent from any local government office and hopes to, over time, improve opportunities for students at all grade levels.
“There’s no more important thing a city can do than support education,” Garcia told reporters at Thursday’s press event. He added that “My job is to support the amazing, groundbreaking work of Long Beach Unified (LBUSD), Cal State Long Beach, Long Beach City College…[and] preschools across the community.”
The majority of the fund’s work in its first few years of operation will build upon the LBUSD’s efforts to expand access to pre-kindergarten education, according to Garcia. He said that, over the past few years, the district has managed to create space for 900 additional students at public preschools.
However, Little Owl Preschool’s executive director, Linda Wilson, said there is a significant shortfall of open seats at early childhood learning programs in Long Beach. She told the Asian Journal that as many as 45,000 preschool-aged children in the city, many of whom come hail from underprivileged areas of the city, have not been able to enroll in classes.
“All over the community, there’s lots of schools that have such a big wait list,” Little Owl Preschool teacher Eric Eyman told the Asian Journal following Thursday’s event. “Parents have to sign up for that wait list…years ahead of time.”
As one of its first initiatives, the MFE hopes to address preschool shortages by helping the LBUSD procure funds to complete the construction of the Educare of Los Angeles in Long Beach pre-kindergarten program. The facility will be located at Barton Elementary School and serve as a proving ground for emerging childhood learning techniques in addition to its function as a preschool.
“It’s not only going serve these 200 youngsters from birth to five,” LBUSD Superintendent Chris Steinhauser told reporters at Thursday’s press conference. “It’s going to serve everybody.”
He later told the Asian Journal that uncertainties stemming from the election of President-elect Donald Trump were unlikely to interfere with the district’s proposals.
Steinhauser went on to note that only a small portion of the district’s budget comes from the federal government. As a result, the LBUSD would be able to resist any of the president-elect’s policies that don’t conform to their values and move forward with its plans independently if necessary.
“No matter what Washington says or does, what’s most important is local action,” said Steinhauser. “Our job is to make sure that every kid is college and career ready, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Preschool classes have a dramatic impact on students’ future success, according to speakers at Thursday’s conference. California State University, Long Beach President Jane Conoley said ensuring that children receive quality instruction early on would mean that fewer children will have to overcome an achievement gap when they begin preparing for college.
She added that students who have fallen behind require additional school resources, making them more expensive to educate.
“Everything we do for a 3-year-old or 4-year-old will pay dividends for us 15 years later,” she said at Thursday’s press conference.
In addition to its work to expand preschool programs, the MFE will also promote partnerships with colleges, universities and local businesses to generate scholarships and internships for students in Long Beach.
One of the non-profit fund’s board members, interTrend Communications CEO Julia Huang, said those resources and opportunities would ensure that LBUSD alumni make the most of what they have learned and become contributing members of society.
“It’s not just providing education,” Huang told the Asian Journal following Thursday’s event. “ It’s also about nudging people who have gotten this education … to be productive by offering them job opportunities.”
She also said she was honored to have been invited by Garcia to serve on the MFE’s board. As a first generation American from Taiwan, Huang said she viewed her upcoming work with the fund as an opportunity to give back to the institutions that allowed her to become successful.
“I have benefitted so much from the American education system that … it breaks my heart when I see a lot of education budgets being deferred,” said Huang. “I really do believe that education is what makes a country great.”