Two in five of the 439 preschool directors interviewed - all of them randomly drawn from the state's more than 14,000-plus community programs - report vacant enrollment slots, while three in five say they have waiting lists of families, according to the UC Berkeley poll.
One in five directors says his or her preschool would close its doors if a nearby public school opened a free program, as envisioned under Prop. 82.
About 65 percent of California's 523,000 four year-olds attend a preschool center, according to the Rand Corp., and over two-thirds of these children are served by community programs operated by nonprofit groups, churches and for-profit firms, the UC Berkeley researchers said. Their survey excluded preschools funded by public schools.
Among other key findings in the report, "Community Voices:
Preschool Directors Speak on Policy Options":
- While the ballot measure would only fund preschools that align classroom activities with learning standards and exams set by the state Department of Education for elementary schools, 38 percent of preschool directors agree with the mandate, 52 percent disagree and 10 percent aren't sure.
- Some 43 percent of directors surveyed report that a two-year community college degree emphasizing child development is sufficient for preschool teachers, and 37 percent support a Prop. 82 requirement that all preschool teachers have a bachelor's degree.
- About 53 percent of the directors say they have a waiting list for enrollment, with 31 percent reporting their lists contain 10 or more names; and 42 percent say they have enrollment openings.
- Just over 63 percent of the directors favor the idea that English be the main language spoken in preschool, while 25 percent say schools should set their own language policies. Nearly 54 percent note that at least 10 percent of their four-year-olds come from non-English-speaking families.
- Almost three-fourths of the directors say their teachers earn less than $15 an hour, but less than 16 percent like the idea of their staff members joining a union. Prop. 82 would extend collective bargaining rights to preschool teachers working in public school districts.
The survey examined a representative sample of directors of California's 439 community preschools between November 2005 and early May 2006. Some interviews were conducted online and others were conducted by UC Berkeley staff.
Some 33 percent of the preschools in the survey are housed in church facilities, 13 percent are located in another sort of community agency, 32 percent are in a public or private school but not funded by a public school district, and 22 percent are independently operated. Directors surveyed report they have a median preschool experience level of 19 years.
"The voices of those running community preschools have not been sufficiently heard," said Bruce Fuller, a UC Berkeley professor of sociology and of education, who directed the survey. "We discovered openness to change, but great concern over the possibility of Sacramento controlling their classrooms and child development philosophy."
The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points, given the sample size.
Prop. 82 would extend state spending on preschool -- a half-day program for an additional 5 to 10 percent of the state's four year-olds -- at a cost of $24 billion over the coming decade.