California Currents

Gov. Newsom expands commitments to young kids, low-income families

Zoe Calderón and Gerardo Herrera share toys at a child-care center in Watsonville. (Photo by Liv Ames for EdSource)

Gov. Gavin Newsom is adding more spending for subsidized child care for low-income children and moving ahead with a master plan to overhaul the state’s early childhood programs.

Newsom has made early childhood education a priority of his administration and in January proposed close to $2 billion for young children, including expanding preschool to more low-income 4-year-olds, expanding full-day kindergarten, building more child-care facilities and training early childhood educators. On Thursday, Newsom added close to $135 million for childcare vouchers for low-income children, something that was markedly missing from his January proposal.

The governor also reiterated his proposal for what he called a “Master Plan for Early Learning and Care” for improving the early childhood system overall, including figuring out how to provide preschool to all 4-year-olds, regardless of income.

“We’re looking forward to being around for the long haul over the course of the next many years as we build out the architecture to provide that universal access,” Newsom said.

His call for a master plan echoed California’s famed Master Plan for Higher Education, drawn up in 1960 to establish the state’s multilayered system of public colleges and universities.

The governor is slowing down his plans to expand state-subsidized preschool for all low-income 4-year-olds, however. In January, he had proposed to expand preschool to 30,000 more low-income 4-year-olds over three years, beginning in July 2019. In his revised budget, Newsom postponed the first 10,000 slots until 2020 and put the other 20,000 new slots on hold until it is clear how much funding is available in later years.

State preschool is offered by school districts and other licensed centers for low-income 3- and 4-year-olds, while state-subsidized child-care vouchers are for low-income children from birth to 12 years old and can be used with any provider, including licensed family child care homes, child care centers and family members or friends who care for one or two children at a time.

“I think there’s an acknowledgement of needing to build the system as a whole and that we have a careful balancing act in building out all parts of the system 0-5,” said Moira Kenney, executive director of the First 5 Association of California, a nonprofit organization that works with counties to help families with children under 5 years old. “What we saw in this May revision really addresses all of the aspects of the family’s experience, and those families particularly living at the bottom of the income ladder.”

Children younger than 3 years old are especially in need of child care, with 8 out of 9 eligible infants and toddlers not enrolled in a subsidized program, according to the California Budget and Policy Center, a nonprofit organization that analyzes budgets’ impact on low-income residents.

“Families across the state are really struggling to afford the high cost of child care and we know that there is a great deal of unmet need,” said Kristin Schumacher, an analyst for the California Budget and Policy Center.

Notably, the governor is proposing $54.2 million to provide a full year of child care for low-income families who are entering CalWORKS, a county-run program that provides cash assistance and other benefits to qualified low-income families with children.

Currently, when families are just beginning the CalWORKS program, they have to apply for an authorization for child care for each workshop, interview or orientation they have to attend.

“Each authorization is tremendously burdensome, paperwork gets lost and there are delays,” said Patti Prunhuber, senior policy attorney at the Child Care Law Center, a nonprofit organization that works to ensure low-income families can access quality child care and which co-sponsored SB 321, a bill that would also provide yearlong, full-day care for CalWORKS families.

Newsom is also proposing $80.5 million of funds from marijuana tax revenue for child care for low-income children. However, this care will be available for school-age children outside school hours, not for children younger than 5 years old.

The budget continues to include funding for building and renovating more child-care facilities and helping preschool teachers and child-care providers take classes to improve quality. It also expands home visiting programs, where nurses and social workers visit families with infants at home, and screenings to detect trauma in young children.

In addition, Newsom is now proposing a $1,000 tax credit for families with children under 6, doubling what he had put forth in January. He also wants to eliminate sales and use tax on children’s diapers and tampons and sanitary napkins for women.

Newsom reduced the funding he is proposing to help school districts build or renovate classrooms for full-day kindergarten, from $750 million to $600 million. The proposal had been questioned by some researchers, who said most schools that don’t offer full-day kindergarten serve mostly higher-income students. In response, Newsom is proposing to offer the funding over three years, prioritize low-income schools and make it available during the first two years only to schools that are converting from part-day programs to full-day programs.

Story originally published by EdSource.