California Currents

Only a fraction of California children eligible to receive subsidized child care

(Photo by Rachel on Unsplash)

As Gov. Gavin Newsom pushes to expand subsidized child care in California, a new report indicates that the state still has a long way to go to reach a substantial share of its neediest children.

Only 1 in 9 children eligible for subsidized child care and preschool programs in California were enrolled in a program that provided full-day, year-round care in 2017, according to an analysis by the California Budget and Policy Center, a nonpartisan organization that analyzes how budget and tax policies affect low- and middle-income Californians.

To come up with the number, the center analyzed federal survey data, finding that an estimated 2 million children under 13 were eligible for subsidized care based on income guidelines, but only 228,100 participated in a program that provided care all day and all year.

That number includes children enrolled in full-day preschool programs, after-school programs for older children and vouchers for child care, but excluded about 97,000 children enrolled in half-day preschool programs without access to subsidized child care for the rest of the day.

There is some debate about how best to use state funding to meet the need — whether to place a higher priority on building more facilities and train more teachers to improve quality in state-subsidized child care centers, or to pay for more subsidies and vouchers for families to use now with any provider they choose.

Kristin Schumacher, an analyst for the California Budget and Policy Center, said Newsom’s proposed budget, released in January, makes it clear that he has a very strong commitment to serving children and families in California. But she said in addition to laying a foundation for a stronger childcare system in the future, the state needs to help families whose children need care now.

“It’s critical to understand how much it costs to put your kids in child care and how much of a burden that is,” she said. “The typical single mom in California makes about $32,000 a year. The median cost of care for two kids in a licensed child care center would take up two out of three pre-tax dollars of her income.”

In his first budget proposal, Newsom included funding for increasing spaces gradually to provide state-subsidized preschool to all low-income 4-year-olds over the next three years, but no money for more subsidies or vouchers for child care for younger children. Instead, he proposed one-time funding for building more preschool classrooms and training for childcare workers.

Many advocates say both facilities funding and teacher training are crucial to be able to provide more quality child care in the future.

In the past, some funding allocated by the Legislature for state-subsidized preschool has gone unused, partly because there aren’t enough buildings and teachers.

“You can put a bunch of money for new slots, you can say a lot more families will have access to care, but do we have the spaces? Do we have the teachers or providers to do it?” asked Patricia Lozano, executive director of Early Edge California.

But advocates for low-income families say parents can’t wait for childcare to be available in a few years, because their children need care now.

“There’s a whole age group that is being completely left out of this budget and those are the kids who have been waiting on this list since they were born, most of them,” said Jennifer Greppi, statewide lead chapter organizer for Parent Voices California, a parent-led organization that advocates for more access to affordable child care.

Parent Voices California and several other organizations are co-sponsoring a bill, AB 194, introduced by Assemblywoman Eloise Gómez Reyes, D-San Bernardino, which would allocate $1 billion to providing more spaces in state-subsidized child care centers and vouchers that low-income families can use for any childcare provider they choose, as long as they pass a background check.

“Many of the families we’re talking about have these really unpredictable schedules, so they may be working two or three different jobs on nights and weekends and they have limited opportunities to go to a center-based program,” Greppi said.

AB 194 is one of several bills that have been introduced in the Legislature to expand early childhood programs. A bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio, D-Baldwin Park, AB 167, would provide center and home-based care for 20,000 more infants and toddlers younger than 3 years old. Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, introduced three other bills, AB 123124 and 125, that seek to expand preschool programs for low-income 3- and 4-year-olds, improve preschool facilities and increase reimbursement rates for preschool teachers.

Story originally published by EdSource.