A report released by the READY (Road to Early Achievement and Development of Youth) project in Sonoma County has found that fewer than one in three children in the county were ready for kindergarten when they began school last fall, with “persistent and troubling disparities” along ethnic, racial and economic lines.

This was the fifth straight year of a decline in readiness, according to the report released Tuesday, which was commissioned by First 5 Sonoma County and the county Department of Human Services.

Supervisor James Gore said that the community needs to “do better.” “We need to support families to make sure each child is ready to succeed in kindergarten and beyond,” he said in a statement.

Like many woes facing California counties, COVID-19 and wildfires are taking some of the blame as more kids were forced to adopt distance learning and early learning programs were closed. But the decline falls starkly along racial lines.

“The READY study found that white and Asian children had more of the resources and learning opportunities to build school readiness than Black, Latinx and indigenous/Native American children,” said Oscar Chavez, assistant director for the county human services department and a member of the First 5 commission.

Factors for success

The project used data gathered from the Kindergarten Student Entrance Profile (KSEP), which takes information from kids in eight Sonoma County districts and a survey of their parents.

Outcomes for children who attended early childhood education programs such as preschool, licensed home-based childcare, and Head Start were twice as likely to be ready for kindergarten, according to data collected from 2016 to 2021, the county said.

The other factor for success? Higher incomes, which allow for more access to learning resources. Simply put, family income was a predictive factor in school readiness, with children whose annual family income was $75,000 or above being twice as likely to be ready for kindergarten, the study found.

Family income was a predictive factor in school readiness, with children whose annual family income was $75,000 or above being twice as likely to be ready for kindergarten.

The project didn’t just outline the problems, it offered some solutions. First 5 Sonoma County said it will use the report to “inform specific investments in children five and under.”

The Board of Supervisors has also allocated $6.3 million of American Rescue Plan funds to address early learning facility and workforce gaps. The board also wants to create a guaranteed basic income pilot program for families with young children. The county also said it is taking strides to address root issues such as housing instability, food insecurity, and mental health services.

A countywide ballot measure will appear in November to try to establish a “dedicated revenue stream” to fund access to early learning, the county said.

The state is also attempting to tackle the issue, with universal pre-kindergarten programs planned over the next three years as well as Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “California Comeback Plan” which aims to target dual-language learners.