California Universal Prekindergarten


  • Public Pre-K


In 2021, California legislators approved a plan to provide universal prekindergarten (UPK) to all four-year-olds and targeted pre-K to income-eligible three-year-olds in the state by 2025-26. California UPK employs a mixed-delivery system that comprises programs across the early care and education ecosystem, including the California State Preschool Program (CSPP) and transitional kindergarten (TK), which are both offered by the California Department of Education; Head Start; family child care; private preschools; and community-based organizations. The rollout of UPK is supported by the Universal Prekindergarten Mixed Delivery Planning Grant, which funds local working groups in each county to align plans to expand UPK with those of local education agencies and the county office of education.  

Most of the funding for UPK was allocated to expand transitional kindergarten, a free state-wide prekindergarten program for all four-year-olds, regardless of family income. TK programs are administered by K-12 public school districts in California and constitute the first year of a two-year program whose second year is kindergarten. They use a modified kindergarten curriculum, which is aligned with the California Preschool Learning Foundations developed by the California Department of Education. In TK alone, California public schools will serve around 300,000 four-year-olds by 2025-26. 


San Francisco Department of Early Childhood. (n.d.). Universal Pre-K FAQ.

Leung-Gagné, M., & Melnick, H. (2023). Assessing the phase-in of California’s ambitious universal prekindergarten program. EdSource.

Leung-Gagné, M., Wang, V., Melnick, H., & Mauerman, C. (2023). How Are California School Districts Planning for Universal Prekindergarten? Results From a 2022 Survey. Learning Policy Institute.

Connections to Key Early Learning Study at Harvard (ELS@H) Findings:

Connections to Key Early Learning Study at Harvard (ELS@H) Findings: High-quality, affordable early education and care supports children’s healthy development and allows families to work, engage in their own educational pursuits, and/or participate in other aspects of community life. To support children and families in these instrumental ways, research suggests there is a need to expand the availability of early education opportunities across the mixed-delivery system.

Findings from the Early Learning Study at Harvard (ELS@H) show:

  • Families rely on a range of formal (e.g., Head Start, center-based care, public pre-K) and more informal (e.g., home-based, relative care) early education settings; when choosing a setting for their child, families balance many logistical constraints and personal preferences.
  • But for many families – and especially low- and middle-income families – early education choices remain tightly constrained due to issues of affordability and supply.
Learn More About ELS@H Findings

Learn more about California

Context matters. Visit the California profile page to learn more about its demographics, political landscape, early education programs, early education workforce, and funding sources and streams.

Visit the California Profile Here
  • The state population is 39,029,342
  • The percentage of children under age 6 with all available parents in the labor force is 65%
  • The rural percentage is 5.8%