Early childhood advocates cheered by $55M in restored funding

A boy builds a castle in his state-funded preschool classroom in East Palo Alto. March 2013. Credit: Lillian Mongeau, EdSource Today

A boy builds a castle in his state-funded preschool classroom in East Palo Alto in March. Credit: Lillian Mongeau, EdSource Today

Child care and early education advocates were pleased to see $55 million restored for state preschool and child care programs in the budget compromise working its way to the governor’s desk.

“It’s a start,” said Assemblymember Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, who has pushed for several measures aimed at expanding and improving early childhood programs in the state. “We’re not doing as much as we hoped, but we are beginning to see dollars directed back into preschool and early child care.”

The new funding will be split between the state preschool program, which will receive $30 million in addition to their current budget of $481 million, and the general child care fund, which will receive an additional $25.8 million. Considering the governor had not proposed any new funding for these programs so far this year, the changes amount to a muted win, said Scott Moore, senior policy analyst for advocacy group Early Edge California.

“We’ve seen $1 billion in cuts to children and child care” over the last five years, Moore said. “Now we’re looking at $55 million in restoration. We have a ways to go.”

Also in the plus column for advocates, the California Department of Education would be required to develop a plan for expanding the state preschool program. This action is seen as the first step in preparing to apply for any federal money that may be available if President Barack Obama’s plan to expand funding for public preschool passes Congress. The budget also includes administrative changes in the way the CalWorks child care voucher program for families in the state’s welfare-to-work program is run. The changes should allow families to receive uninterrupted benefits when income increases cause them to shift from one subsidy level to another.

A controversial fee for half-day state preschool will remain in place, however. Bonilla led a push in the Assembly to add language to the budget trailer bill removing the fee for low-income families who qualify for subsidized preschool but make too much to get free care. Four-person families making between $26,000 and $37,900 pay $1 to $8.88 per three-hour school day, based on a sliding scale.

“I do feel badly about that,” Bonilla said. “It was only $4 million (in revenue from the fee). When we made that change in committee we really were confident that fee would be dropped.”

Bonilla said the fee is an administrative headache for providers and keeps some children from enrolling. Dozens of providers testified about the impact before her education budget subcommittee hearing on the fee on March 20. However, there is not clear data on how many children may have left state preschool programs because of the fee and some providers have reported that they see the fee as a positive development, as EdSource has reported.

Overall, Bonilla said she’s hopeful that the added funding indicates a shift in priorities for the Legislature and the governor toward better funding for early education. Progress has been made, she said.

“I honestly believe there just wasn’t enough money to do more,” she said.

Lillian Mongeau covers early childhood education. Contact her and follow her @lrmongeau.

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4 Responses to “Early childhood advocates cheered by $55M in restored funding”

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  1. Lillian Mongeau on Jun 14, 2013 at 9:27 am06/14/2013 9:27 am

    • 000

    Hi El,

    Paul is right about Fresno. They decided not to collect the fee from parents and to pay the state directly since so many of their families fall below the poverty level that allows them to receive preschool services free even within the fee structures. My notes from my interview with the manager of early learning in Fresno indicate that 82 percent of their enrolled families qualify for free preschool, so they are only covering fees for the remaining 18 percent, or 337 families.

    You can read more about it in my original story about the preschool fee which Paul linked above and which is also linked in the “Going Deeper” section.


  2. Paul on Jun 13, 2013 at 11:24 pm06/13/2013 11:24 pm

    • 000

    el, it would be fine if a school district decided not to COLLECT the fee from parents, but rather unfair if the district then decided not to REMIT the fee to the state. Fresno Unified, for example, chose to divert unrestricted funds to cover the preschool fee. As long as the state charges a fee, there is no free lunch.

    It should be noted that diverting funds harms other educational programs, and that school districts are making these decisions with unbalanced evidence. We know that preschool is good. We don’t know how many families decline it due to the fee, or how many would be attracted without a fee. More importantly, we don’t know whether competing educational programs produce better value for the money than preschool.



    • el on Jun 14, 2013 at 7:20 am06/14/2013 7:20 am

      • 000

      Paul, as I understand the rules, the district is obligated to collect from the parents and is not permitted to pay the fee. For my particular local district, I believe we would be better off paying the fees – the amount generated is small compared to the hassle, staff time, and disruption. I will look into what Fresno did.

  3. el on Jun 13, 2013 at 10:28 pm06/13/2013 10:28 pm

    • 000

    It would have been a huge help simply to make the fee optional, at the discretion of the LEA to collect it or not.

    I wish all the committee members would appreciate the idiocy of having the principal or the business office having to take the time to call up families and tell them that they can’t bring their kids to school unless they cough up $30. Maybe they should be the ones making the phone calls.

    I’m hugely disappointed and I don’t honestly think that the money was even the primary motivator for this fee.

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